You are here

$3.5 Million Settlement For Family Whose Son Was Crushed To Death At Lassen Volcanic National Park


The federal government, while acknowledging no wrongdoing, has settled for $3.5 million a lawsuit brought by a California family whose 9-year-old son died in an accident at Lassen Volcanic National Park.

The settlement brought to an end a legal battle that raised evidence of a coverup by Lassen Volcanic officials and which drew harsh criticism on the National Park Service by a federal judge. 

Tommy Botell, 9, was crushed to death and his sister, "K.B.," injured when a retaining wall along the Lassen Peak Trail that they were sitting on collapsed on July 29, 2009. The children's parents filed a wrongful death and personal injury lawsuit against the federal government in June 2011.

During some of the early stages of the case, a U.S. Magistrate Judge Gregory G. Hollows concluded that Lassen Volcanic officials "purposely destroyed material evidence" in the case. In his ruling, the magistrate said Lassen Volcanic Superintendent Darlene Koontz violated Park Service policies by ordering the retaining wall to be dismantled before a special agent for the agency could inspect it as part of an investigation into the boy's death.

While park officials maintainted that was done for the public's safety, a federal judge later adopted the magistrate's findings and recommendations.

Word of the settlement surfaced Wednesday. In a statement released by their attorneys, the Botells said:

“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.”

National Park Service officials had no immediate comment today when asked about the settlement. 

The Lassen Peak Trail runs 2.5 miles one-way to the top of the 10,457-foot peak. Much of the mountain is barren, lacking of trees and other vegetation that could help stabilize the flanks. The trail begins at the peak parking area at an elevation of 8,500 feet and zig-zags across this steep and rocky landscape to the summit. There were 50-60 people hiking the trail when the wall collapsed, and some came to the family's aid.


In true Park Service fashion, I'm sure Darlene Koontz will be on the fast track to a promotion, if she hasn't already.

In five minutes the Yosemite Mafia will be here talking about broad brushes.

Gee, PS, it's already been five minutes.


This story is sad on so many levels.

Its sad for the poor young man that was killed.

Its sad that the park managers/government couldn't stand up and let the evidence lead where it would.

And its sad that a family would extort $3.5 million from the US government. You can't and shouldn't measure the grief from loss in dollars. If this had been a working father with financial obligations to support a family, then maybe yes, but the parents had no monetary right to nor dependence on the future earnings of their son.


I am in agreement with you all the way - until you use the term 'extort' and the rest of that paragraph.

until you use the term 'extort' and the rest of that paragraph.

What would you call it?

From a Merced Sun Star story on the case:

The judge also cited a draft report written after the accident by a Park Service landscape architect that said "one could put a boot on top of the wall and kick it down." Koontz ordered the comment stricken from the report, the judge related, and added, "The draft report was destroyed and has not been produced in this litigation."

One park employee testified that she saw Chief Ranger John Roth shredding documents that she had collected to send to the Botell attorneys in response to a discovery request.

Roth brought the documents to meet with Koontz and review them after Jessica Compton delivered the documents to him, and just before he returned to the office, where Jessica observed him shredding some of them," [Judge] Hollows wrote.

Thanks for that link, PS. Some awfully smelly stuff there.

National Parks Traveler's Essential Park Guide