Hey tommy lil mister Indiana of jones. not a day goes by that I don’t think of you man.you were my bestfriend my brother. It really never got better than you. I remember when we told everyone we were twins with diffrent parents but same blood didnt know what we were talking about that night on the trampoline where we slept the wii I was going crazy i just had to beat your sister at tennis you were the first person to make me feel welcomed at reeds creek you know. Invited me to play b-ball that day then we just connected and became best friends. So many memories. I miss your dog bear. He probably missed you too well anyways just wanted to say I love you man. R.I.P I’ll see you agian. We will reunite. You me and zach will be the three musketeers agian. Keep a eye on me and your family please. Forever loved. Rip bud miss you
Stories in the Sacramento Bee February 20 and in the Redding Record-Searchlight and Red Bluff Daily News the following day told of a $3.5 million settlement the U.S. government agreed to, as the Bee story says, “extract itself from a lawsuit over the death of 9-year-old Tom Botell in Lassen Volcanic National Park.”
Tommy died on an outing in July 2009 while on a hike with his family in the park. His sister Katrina, 13, was seriously injured when the 2-foot wall on Lassen Peak Trail the two kids were sitting on to pose for a picture suddenly gave way and rolled over on him. Tommy’s skull and brainstem were crushed and he was dead within minutes. Katrina suffered a fractured jaw and other head injuries. Another younger daughter was on the trip but was not hurt.
The last two paragraphs in the Bee account by reporter Denny Walsh one of the most jarring, disturbing things I’ve read in over six decades in the news business:
“As parts of the wall fell upon them, the two children tumbled about 30 feet to the trail below, where the rest of the family hiked behind them. Their father managed to grab his daughter. The mother scrambled to Tommy.
“’Mommy, I can’t see,’ he said, and died in her arms.”
OBVIOUSLY, A DISTURBING ACCOUNT of a horrible, horrible accident that should never have happened. And just as disturbing in other ways is the way the National Park Service, some of its staff and all of its lawyers have conducted themselves since that fateful event. They’ve fought tooth and nail every day since to get the government off the hook, all the time showing callous disregard for the Botell family, the boy’s death, the girl’s injury and the hells the family will have to endure for the remainder of their lives.
My wife and I Iost a teenage son in 1978 and his violent death came on a highway many miles from us. We seldom go through a day without thinking of him and never go through a day without missing him. The agony of the Botells has to be even worse. They witnessed the tragedy and there is no way in heaven or hell that memory will ever dim.
The government doesn’t/didn’t give a good goddamn for the family; it’s only concern was to get off the hook for tons of money.
Same for some of the National Park Service staff. They’ve been more concerned with saving their jobs, covering their butts and possibly finding other staffers to blame.
One name pops right to the top of this, both in the court decisions that led to the settlement and in the despicable actions in the time since the boy was killed.
Darlene Koontz, superintendent of Lassen National Park.
LET THE BEE STORY TELL IT
The ensuing lawsuit on behalf of the family was marred by what Sacramento federal judges perceived as unethical conduct on the part of some park employees, particularly Superintendent Darlene Koontz.
“Defense of the suit began to disintegrate in scathing findings and recommendations authored by U.S. Magistrate Judge Gregory G. Hollows, who said Koontz knew the wall was dangerous yet didn’t fix it, then attempted to orchestrate a cover-up following the incident by causing evidence to be destroyed and lying under oath in a deposition.
U.S. District Judge Troy L. Nunley ultimately stripped the government of its defenses, which led to the settlement. “The conduct of the National Park Service and some of its employees, leading up to this tragedy and during the litigation, make me ashamed that they represent the United States of America,” said Steve Campora, lead lawyer for the Botells.
Through attorney Catia Saraiva, who worked with Campora in pressing the Botells’ claims, the family issued this statement Wednesday:
“This was a horrific event that no family should have to endure. Our grief and loss were compounded by the refusal of the Park Service to accept responsibility and to act responsibly during the lawsuit.”
U.S. Attorney Benjamin Wagner, whose office handled the defense of the Park Service, said Tommy’s death was a tragedy both for his family and the Park Service, and added that he is glad to have the matter behind him.
“As the settlement agreement indicates,” Wagner said, “it is in no way intended to be, and should not be construed as, an admission of fault or wrongdoing on the part of Park Service employees.”
The government’s last stand was based on the so-called “discretionary function” statute. It divests federal district courts of jurisdiction over claims based on “the exercise or performance or the failure to exercise or perform a discretionary function or duty on the part of a federal agency or an employee of the government, whether or not the discretion involved (was) abused.”
Thus, government lawyers argued, even if park employees knew the wall posed a serious danger but did not repair it or block public access, the court had no jurisdiction.
Nunley made short work of that position. He described it as “unavailing” because the park’s safety program mandated closure pending corrective action of known dangers such as the retaining wall that crumbled under Tommy and his sister when they sat on it. The judge found that “the safety program constituted a policy directing mandatory and specific actions that were admittedly not followed.”
Under the terms of the settlement, the family – mother, father and two daughters – will receive direct payments totaling $2.85 million, out of which its attorneys will be paid. In addition, the government will pay $650,000 for annuities to benefit the older daughter, who sat with Tommy on the retaining wall next to a mountain hiking trail and who suffered severe physical and psychological injuries when the wall collapsed; and the younger daughter, who witnessed the death of her brother and suffered emotional injuries.
That’s the Bee account. Most disturbing part, while I know it’s what lawyers have to do to attempt to forestall or diminish further litigation is comment on the settlement, “it is in no way intended to be, and should not be construed as, an admission of fault or wrongdoing on the part of Park Service employees.”
Put that next to part of the Botell family statement, following the announcement of the settlement, “Our grief and loss were compounded by the refusal of the Park Service to accept responsibility and to act responsibly during the lawsuit.”
As of this writing, an individual who might seriously think about acting responsibly and publicly and profusely apologizing to the family is
Superintendent Darlene Koontz
Superintendent Koontz. She should be on her knees begging their forgiveness.
A veteran of more than 30 years with the National Park Service – the last five and a half at Lassen – I have little doubt her career has effectively ended. She’s got enough time in to retire and if she does not the NPS will soon send her to some decrepit federal site or just put her in an office far from Northern California with nothing to do until she quits.
I SPEAK WITH CONSIDERABLE KNOWLEDGE of the inner workings the National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service. I spent a year as an information officer with the Southwest Regional Office of the NPS in Santa Fe, New Mexico.
I have stories to tell and, if I live long enough, probably will.
No apology from Koontz or anyone in any of the accounts of this mess that I have read. Nope, to apologize might mean more lawsuits or other actions. And could be ego or such also gets in the way of any act of contrition.
What bothers me about the stories in the Northern California papers, the one in the Red Bluff Daily News in particular is something omitted.
Koontz lives in Red Bluff. She currently is chairman of the Board of Directors of the Red Bluff-Tehama County Chamber of Commerce. Has been since last year. Her term expires in 2015.
“Mommie, I can’t see.”
It will haunt me forever.
– Cliff Larimer
Each day I wear them, and each day I wish I had another pair.
Some days my shoes hurt so bad that I do not think I can take another step.
Yet, I continue to wear them.
I get funny looks wearing these shoes.
They are looks of sympathy.
I can tell in others eyes that they are glad they are my shoes and not theirs.
They never talk about my shoes.
To learn how awful my shoes are might make them uncomfortable.
To truly understand these shoes you must walk in them.
But, once you put them on, you can never take them off.
I now realize that I am not the only one who wears these shoes.
There are many pairs in this world.
Some woman are like me and ache daily as they try and walk in them.
Some have learned how to walk in them so they don’t hurt quite as much.
Some have worn the shoes so long that days will go by before they think about how much they hurt.
No woman deserves to wear these shoes.
Yet, because of these shoes I am a stronger woman.
These shoes have given me the strength to face anything.
They have made me who I am.
I will forever walk in the shoes of a woman who has lost a child. ~ Anonymous
Many years ago, we were staying at a beach condo we had rented on the Monterey dunes. It must have been Spring Break 2008, because Brittany was in 4th grade and we were there so that she could study her California Mission of choice, San Juan Bautista (or as we kept calling it San Juan the pizza).
While we were staying there I became very fascinated (okay, more like obsessed) with the family that once called this place “their vacation home.” Going up the stairs were literally hundreds of photographs in a collage style showing, sectioned by year, going back to what looked like the early 1970’s. As I walked up the stairs I could see the people getting older, people vanishing from the pictures, then more people joining the gathering of friends and family. I saw Christmas times, thanksgivings, spring breaks, etc. Toward the end years, I saw the person that started out as the young mom of the family in a wheelchair with her family gathered around her.
I was able to pick out (or so I thought) this woman’s best years. I showed my family. I am sure I drove them nuts. I just kept saying, “Look, these were this family’s best years” while pointing to somewhere in the middle. The years of happy faces, large gatherings, and many age groups. Then, (if you know me you know how I am) I started getting all sentimental. I began thinking and voicing (of course), “What if these are the best days of our lives?” This is about the time I went out and took some amazing photos of my kids flying kites on the dunes.
That condo has stuck in my mind ever since. When I look back at my life, I can pick out my “best years.” My family was complete in 2000. We had Tommy, Katrina was starting kindergarten, Brittany was a year and half, we moved to Red Bluff, our house was finished being built. It was a great year and just seemed to get better every year. I had a truly amazing life. All those years from 2000-2009 were amazing. Each year the kids got older and able to do more “Botell Family Fun” things.
So, this is where I have been so stuck. My best years are over. This has been weighing me down. It can never be what it once was. Tommy is gone. I know he is in Heaven, but that does not make me miss him any less. It does not make the holidays any easier or any other day for that matter. I have been struggling so hard with trying to go on when there is nothing in me that wants to. I have prayed about it and asked God to please help me. I do not want to be the person I am becoming, a joyless and hopeless mom, wife, and friend.
My prayer was answered, I woke up the other morning to Tom kissing me goodbye, as he does every morning, and in a half asleep state of mind I said, “What if our best days are yet to come?” I have no idea where that came from but I got up and wrote it on my bathroom mirror. It flipped a switch in my mind. What if those were the best days of my life but there are more best days to come? Yes, I know, more best days is improper grammar, but it is the best way to convey what I mean and as Tommy would say, “Doesn’t matter cuz I like the sound of it” haha. This one little change in my thought process has knocked me right out of the pity party I was having for myself; all of the sudden I felt some joy and hope.
It is Christmas time. I still have two children here on earth. I must have joy and hope. If not for me then for them. I have to keep on showing them strength, faith, and perseverance. I miss my son with every ounce of my being that is never going to change. His days here on earth were my best days, for sure, but what if I have more “best days”…..what if? Ever since I woke up with the “what if” thought we have had some amazing things happen through other people. They have brought so much joy to my family. I am still not “doing” the whole Christmas thing, but in an amazing way, a very kind person has insured the fact that my girls, Tom, and I will have a wonderful Christmas Day. Joyful things just keep coming too….
I just received a call from our pastor. He would like my family to light the advent candles this Sunday. I am honored. What if?……….
These were THE BEST days. I am hopeful that we may have more “best days” ahead. You never know…what IF?
I Love you Tommy. Merry Christmas.
Here we are again, another Holiday season, or as I now call it “The Holi-Daze”. I am trying to “chipper up” but I feel so blah. Tis the season to be jolly blaaah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah. Someone said that the 3rd year is one of the toughest. I guess because the shock of the 1st year is gone, the trying to pretend of the 2nd year is over, and now it is straight-up REALITY. Where to go from here? I am not sure.
I guess we will do what we have done for the past Thanksgivings since Tommy has been gone. We will help serve the community a Thanksgiving meal at a local church, and then visit Tommy’s memorial bricks. I enjoy serving the community. It makes me feel like my life has some purpose and meaning. These people are so grateful too. So unlike many, myself included, who at times feel entitled to not only large meals but everything in life. Could you imagine if all of us were stripped of everything and then handed a few things at a time. How grateful we would all be, huh? I guess that is how the people in our community feel when they are served a hot meal on Thanksgiving….they feel so grateful. Many of them have had some very tough years, have lost hope, and feel like giving up. I have been there before; felt the feeling of wanting to give up on life, filled with hopelessness. I am sure many, if not all of us, have at one time or another. The power that a kind gesture can have on a person is quite amazing. It can make all the difference in someone’s life.
If you are reading this and feel so inclined, please take a moment to give thanks for what you have, even if it is not everything you wish it to be. Give Thanks for the children in your life. Give Thanks for the family and friends that you have (on Earth and in Heaven). Give Thanks for warm meals and places to rest your head. Give Thanks for All Things. It is amazing how much a grateful heart can help a person. I started this feeling broken, but I am ending it a little less broken (if that makes any sense). We have been invited to spend our Thanksgiving evening at a friend’s house. I am grateful to have friends that want to share this day with us.
I have a poster size version of this picture in my bedroom. It was taken in November 2008. This was Tommy’s last Grandparents Day/Thanksgiving Feast at his school. I was not supposed to be with Tommy on this day that year. Grandma Carolyn, Tom, and I used to switch off every year between the three kids we had at Reeds Creek School. It was Grandma Carolyn’s year to be with Tommy, but we decided since it was Katrina’s last year at RC (8th grade) Grandma should go to her classroom. I happened to have both the camera and the camcorder. I was going to give one to Tom when he showed up to be with Brittany, but he was running late because of work so the celebration began and I just kept both devices. Oh..how grateful I am.
Tommy was chosen to be the narrator for the Thanksgiving play in his classroom. I was not only able see it but record it as well! He did so well. Mrs. Cooper (the super pooper scooper, as the kids called her:) came up to me after the play and said that when she auditioned the kids for the part of narrator Tommy blew her away. She said he was such an articulate speaker. She said she had been worried about filling the part until she heard him read. Another great moment as Tommy’s mom.
He made the black vest he was wearing out of paper. He was very proud of his part in the play. He was such a gentleman at the feast. A very good day indeed. I can’t watch the video yet (hurts), but I am grateful to know that I have it. I am grateful to have this incredible picture with my son. I am so grateful to have this memory of our last Grandparents Day/Thanksgiving School Celebration. Enjoy your Thanksgiving and remember to Give Thanks.