The family of a 16-year-old Garfield High School student with autism was blaming the Los Angeles Unified School District Thursday for the boy’s death by drowning on a field trip.
Erick Ortiz died Wednesday while at an aquatic facility at a park near the school’s East Los Angeles campus, according to his family.
The boy was assigned a full-time teacher’s assistant who knew that he did not know how to swim, family members said.
“We want answers. Where was the TA? Why wasn’t he with him? Why wasn’t he taking care of him? Why wasn’t he doing his job?” said the victim’s sister, Leslie Ortiz, during a news conference at a plaintiff’s attorney’s office on Thursday.
“That’s his only job, to take care of just one student, which was my brother,” Leslie Ortiz said.
The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department announced the drowning death of a juvenile on Wednesday evening, saying the victim was pronounced dead at a hospital. The department’s news release gave an address that corresponds to Atlantic Avenue Park, near Garfield High, a small county park that has a pool.
The incident was reported at 1:45 p.m., according to the Sheriff’s Department, which would not provide additional information on Thursday.
Leslie Ortiz said her brother was pulled out of the pool fully clothed, with his shoes on.
On Thursday, LAUSD sent out a statement about the death of a Garfield High student without naming the victim.
“The District extends heartfelt condolences to the family on its tragic loss,” the statement read. “The District will continue to cooperate with the ongoing law enforcement investigation. Crisis counselors are on site to help the school community.”
Luis Carrillo, a South Pasadena attorney who has represented victims of sexual abuse at Miramonte Elementary School, spoke Thursday alongside the Ortiz family, which has not taken legal action.
“How insensitive of Superintendent Deasy or the district to talk about condolences when it was their horrible negligence that caused this enormous tragedy,” Carrillo said.
The district has not answered questions about the circumstances of the drowning, family members said.
LAUSD said in its statement that it would have no further comment at this time.
Erick Ortiz was a special needs student and had been left unattended at a swimming pool, which he fell into, Carrillo said in an email.
Ortiz’s mother had signed a permission slip allowing her son to go to a “park” for a end-of-year field trip, but the inclusion of a swimming pool on the trip was not mentioned, family members said.
The assistant assigned to Erick Ortiz’s care called his mother to inform her of the boy’s death, family members said.
She was at the pool while lifeguards worked for nearly an hour to try to resuscitate him, a witness said.
The family was in the process of planning the funeral.
A Bank of America account was set up to accept donations for funeral costs under Leslie Ortiz Herrera, account No. 3250 4062 9139, routing No. 121000350.
KTLA’s Kacey Montoya contributed to this article.
Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated the park where Ortiz drowned was operated by the city of Los Angeles; in fact, it is a Los Angeles County-operated park. The story has been updated.