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Thursday, April 11, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Parents Blame School for Son’s Death

McALLEN, Texas (CN) - A Texas drill sergeant made a middle-school student with asthma run laps until he collapsed and died, his parents claim in Federal Court.

Sonia Villarreal Rodriguez says she went to Buell Middle School with her son Abraham Luna on his first day there and begged teacher Felix Rocha not to make Abraham exercise because he has asthma.

Buell Middle School is a DAEP school in the Pharr San Juan Alamo Independent School District. DAEP stands for Disciplinary Alternative Education Program.

Defendant Sgt. Rocha is a drill instructor at the school in Pharr, attended by sixth to twelfth graders.

The school has 97 students. All of them are Hispanic and 78 percent of them are male, according to Homefacts.com.

Pharr is just across the border from Reynosa, Mexico.

Abraham's parents sued the school district, Rocha and school nurse Sonia Salinas on Tuesday, seeking punitive damages and funeral expenses.

Abraham's mother says Rocha dismissed her warning about her son and ordered the 14-year-old to run laps on Feb. 17, 2014.

"Shortly after beginning the run, Abraham complained to Sgt. Rocha that he was not feeling well and could no longer run," the complaint states.

"Sgt. Rocha dismissed Abraham's complaints, ignored Mrs. Villarreal's previous warnings regarding her son's health and ordered Abraham to keep running. After a short while longer, Abraham collapsed and fell unconscious."

Rocha did not seem concerned, the parents say, because he didn't help Abraham.

"Rocha instead chose to intervene in a separate incident between students that was occurring at the same time," according to the complaint.

The parents say school nurse Sonia Salinas took her time getting to Abraham and "failed to render appropriate aid" before an "ambulance finally took Abraham to the hospital."

He died shortly after he was admitted to Rio Grande Regional Hospital, according to a statement from the school district.

District Superintendent Daniel King told CBS affiliate KGBT-TV that the staff "intervened appropriately" when Abraham passed out.

Abraham's parents disagree. They seek damages for civil rights violations and wrongful death.

They are represented by Luis Cardenas with Escobedo & Cardenas of McAllen.

Cardenas told Courthouse News that Abraham shouldn't have been enrolled in the school.

"He was accused of hanging around kids that were doing drugs and so was sent to the 'alternative' school. However, his autopsy showed he had absolutely no trace of any drugs in his system," Cardenas said.

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