A mom left her 3-year-old son to drown at a Texas water park while she “spent hours looking at her phone and singing along to music,” authorities say — but her lawyer claims inattentive lifeguards are at fault.
Jessica Weaver, 35, was accused of negligence and charged with injury to a child by omission in the death of her only child, little Anthony Leo Malave, at Camp Cohen Water Park in El Paso.
Several witnesses described Weaver as being recklessly inattentive before her son drowned during a “soft opening” of the city-owned park in May, the El Paso Times reported, citing a criminal complaint.
The mother was arrested Aug. 30 in her native Indiana, where she waived extradition. She was booked into the El Paso County Jail on Sept. 22 and released on a $100,000 surety bond, according to the news outlet.
One of 18 lifeguards working at the park pulled Anthony out of a 4-foot-deep section of the pool where he drowned, said the document cited by the El Paso Times.
The child was not wearing a life vest, though the devices were available for guests at the facility, according to the paper.
Signs at Camp Cohen state that kids 6 and younger “must be directly attended by a swimming adult” at all times and “must be supervised by an adult within arm’s reach.”
Investigators spoke to several witnesses on the day of the accident, according to El Paso DA Bill Hicks.
One witness said a woman matching Weaver’s description was “never looking up or paying attention to anything” while she was glued to her phone by the pool for over an hour.
Another witness said the woman — who he believed was by herself — was snapping photos the entire time he saw her at the pool, according to the affidavit.
A third person saw “the mother singing along to a song that was playing and she was laying down, looking at her phone approximately seven minutes before the child/victim was getting pulled out of the water,” the document states.
Another said the woman “encouraged the toddler to go into the pool before walking away and leaving the boy by himself.”
The same witness later heard that a boy was found underwater and that it took “about five minutes” for the woman to run to the child after everyone was told to get out of the pool.
Hicks told reporters that Weaver was charged because she didn’t pay enough attention to her son.
“A lifeguard is not a baby-sitter. They’re a last resort in hopefully saving a life,” the DA said, KFOX-TV reported.
But Weaver’s lawyers claims she has been unfairly blamed for Anthony’s death — and have filed a $1 million lawsuit against the city in which she claims the tragedy was the result of “gross negligence” by the park and its lifeguards.
One of the lawyers, Ryan MacLeod, described a Sept. 5 press conference by Hicks as a political stunt.
He alleged that the charge against his client was in retaliation for the wrongful-death lawsuit, which also names ASM Global, the entertainment company hired to run the camp.
MacLeod said neither he nor his client knew Hicks would pursue criminal charges until authorities went to her Indiana home and claimed she was a “fugitive from justice.”
The lawsuit claims the city of El Paso showed its lack of concern by not requiring experience for candidates seeking jobs as lifeguards, KFOX reported.
It also alleges that the city destroyed surveillance video on the day of the drowning.
Hicks has responded that the lawsuit has nothing to do with the criminal prosecution.
“Every single baby death is reviewed,” the DA said, adding that each case is examined by prosecutors in collaboration with police and that prosecutions are treated on a case-by-case basis.
“I’m not gonna lure myself to a back-and-forth with a civil attorney,” Hicks said. “This is criminal proceedings. It’s the state of Texas vs. Ms. Weaver. I don’t have anything to say to him.”