Parents sue complex where toddler drowned

By Matt Stiles
Houston Chronicle

The family of a toddler who drowned two weeks ago at a south Houston apartment complex has filed a lawsuit accusing the owner of leaving gaps in a fence police say may have allowed the boy access to a swimming pool. The suit was brought by Misty Lynn Campos on behalf of her 23-month-old son, Conar Matthew Rose, who drowned at the Vista Bonita apartments Oct. 27.The complex, at 9313 Tallyho in south Houston, has a history of safety-related violations, according to municipal court records.Conar’s parents allege that the owner, New South Apartments LLC, and its representative, Nanik Bhagia, did not repair a chest-high iron fence surrounding the cloudy, algae-filled pool. City officials have said that both the fence and water conditions violated state and municipal laws.

“His death was caused by the negligence of defendants, including failing to maintain the fence around the pool and failing to keep the pool water clear,” the suit reads. “Such negligence was a proximate cause of the death.”

Bhagia denied negligence Tuesday but declined to discuss the case in detail.” I am not able to comment right now because I need to speak to my attorneys,” he said. “I don’t think we are negligent.” The suit, filed by Corpus Christi attorney Bob Hilliard, also asks for a temporary restraining order to prevent the owner from tampering with any evidence in and around the pool. Hilliard also seeks permission to have an expert examine the scene. He said Tuesday that his case was clear-cut.” To have a fence where someone’s 2-year-old can slip through, that’s grossly negligent,” he said. While the lawsuit challenges the apartment complex, police investigators have said that the boy’s mother was distracted, which allowed him to go outside the apartment unsupervised.

Child Protective Services launched an investigation, and Conar’s mother and stepfather agreed to place his 7-year-old twin brothers and one-month-old sister with the maternal grandmother pending the outcome of an investigation by the agency, spokeswoman Gwen Carter said. That probe was closed recently, but the children remain with the grandmother pending the parents’ completion of social services, such as parenting classes, said another CPS spokeswoman, Estella Olguin.She said the agency regards incidents involving unsupervised children differently. For example, she said, a child injured while a parent is briefly distracted can be less serious than a case in which a parent was under the influence of alcohol.

“You can’t keep your eye on your children 24/7,” Olguin said, recommending “child-proof” precautions on outside doors, for example, so children cannot wander outside while their parents sleep.

After the drowning, city inspectors issued at least 80 citations for health and safety violations at the complex. Inspectors documented plumbing, electrical and structural code violations on the property. Some vacant buildings have been left unsecured and dangerous, according to inspectors.

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