Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Lawsuit: Child died because Hillsborough school waited too long to call 911

TAMPA — Keith Logan Coty played baseball, soccer and football. He was a principal's honor roll student in the first grade at Seminole Heights Elementary School, his mother said.

He'd had a heart murmur, but the doctor had cleared him, his mother said.

He died a year ago at age 6 of a brain hemorrhage, and a lawsuit filed Friday blames staff at his school for failing to call for help quickly enough. The lapse is especially unfathomable, lawyers say, as the issue of timely 911 calls was cited in another high-profile student death in a Hillsborough public school.

"How many kids under the care of this school district must die before the district gets it right?" lawyer Steven Maher asked, announcing the federal suit in a news conference Friday.

Exactly a year ago — Jan. 17, 2014 — Keith began feeling sick after lunch, the suit says. He went back to his classroom about 12:24 p.m., complaining to his teacher about a severe headache. She told him to lie down. He did. Then he started vomiting.

About 12:51, the teacher called Keith's mother, Kaycee Teets. There was no sense of urgency in the voice mail message she left, which Maher played at the news conference. It simply asked Teets to pick up her son because he was throwing up.

Before Teets could arrive, another school employee entered the room and found Keith lying on his side, making a gurgling sound with foam streaming from his nose. "His lips were blue," the suit said. The school nurse was summoned. Although Keith was unresponsive, the suit alleges the nurse did not perform cardiopulmonary resuscitation; nor did she use the defibrillator at the school.

About 12:58 p.m., a worker in the front office called 911. The information given to the 911 operator was confusing, the suit alleges. At one point the caller said Keith was breathing. His mother insists he was not.

When an emergency vehicle arrived at 1:03 p.m., Keith was "in the corner, visibly blue, not breathing, and unresponsive." Paramedics were able to resuscitate the child, and they took him to St. Joseph's Hospital in Tampa.

A scan revealed he had a brain hemorrhage. But, according to the suit, no one told the doctors about his headache, information Teets learned hours later when she spoke with Keith's teacher. Not suspecting a neurological problem, doctors focused on possible cardiac issues instead.

Keith "went without oxygen for at least 10 minutes as a result of the delay in commencing CPR," the suit alleges. He stayed on life support long enough for his organs to be taken for donation, and he was pronounced dead later in the day.

The suit, filed days before Superintendent MaryEllen Elia could face a School Board vote on terminating her contract, is reminiscent of a suit the same firm filed in 2012, also involving a child alleged to have died after emergency treatment was delayed.

Isabella Herrera suffered a neuromuscular disability and was on a school bus when she stopped breathing. No one called 911 until Isabella's mother arrived. The school district ultimately settled that lawsuit for $800,000.

The Herrera suit was filed in federal court, alleging a civil rights violation; rather than a negligence suit in state court, where the award would have been limited under sovereign immunity. Maher was trying to prove a districtwide lack of training and care so severe, it amounted to a level of indifference toward disabled students that qualified as discrimination.

This time, Maher said, the 911 policy and procedures amount to discrimination toward all of Hillsborough's 200,000 students.

The district argued in the 2012 suit that there was no pattern of indifference. And, after the drowning death of a second special-needs child that same year, Hillsborough revamped its training of staff, particularly those who care for disabled children.

But 911 calls have remained a source of confusion. While Elia quickly stated there is no prohibition against calling 911, administrators sometimes advise staff to let the front office make the calls. Phone service is not always reliable in the classrooms, they say, and it's easier for emergency workers to find the office than a particular classroom.

Maher and Teets said that makes no sense to them.

"I would call 911. There would be no question," Teets said. "Any person would do that. I walked into a classroom and found my child, blue on the ground."

Stephen Hegarty, the district's spokesman, said, "I cannot comment on pending litigation."

Maher said his firm is asking for monetary damages, but did not specify the amount.

Contact Marlene Sokol at (813) 226-3356 or msokol@tampabay.com. Follow @marlenesokol.

Lawsuit: Child died because Hillsborough school waited too long to call 911 01/16/15 [Last modified: Friday, January 16, 2015 4:38pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Protectors of Confederate statue readied for a battle that never materialized

    Local Government

    BROOKSVILLE — Big Dixie flags were waving. County employees had erected a barrier around the Confederate soldier statue at Main and Broad streets. Roads and parking areas were blocked off. Uniformed local officers and federal law enforcement patrolled.

    Police tape and barricades surround the Confederate statue in Brooksville.
  2. Manhattan Casino choice causes political headache for Kriseman

    Growth

    ST. PETERSBURG — Days before the mayoral primary, Mayor Rick Kriseman's decision to let a Floribbean restaurant open in Midtown's historic Manhattan Casino has caused political angst within the voting bloc he can least afford to lose: the black community.

    Last week Mayor Rick Kriseman chose a Floribbean restaurant concept to fill Midtown's historic Manhattan Casino. But that decision, made days before next week's mayoral primary, has turned into a political headache for the mayor. Many residents want to see the building's next tenant better reflect its cultural significance in the black community. [JAMES BORCHUCK   |   Times]
  3. FSU-Bama 'almost feels like a national championship game Week 1'

    Blogs

    The buzz is continuing to build for next Saturday's blockbuster showdown between No. 1 Alabama and No. 3 Florida State.

  4. Plan a fall vacation at Disney, Universal, Busch Gardens when crowds are light

    Florida

    Now that the busy summer vacation season is ending, Floridians can come out to play.

    Maria Reyna, 8, of Corpus Cristi, TX. eats chicken at the Lotus Blossom Cafe at the Chinese pavilion at Epcot in Orlando, Fla. on Thursday, August 17, 2017.  Epcot is celebrating it's 35th year as the upcoming Food and Wine Festival kicks off once again.
  5. USF spends $1.5 million to address growing demand for student counseling

    College

    TAMPA — As Florida's universities stare down a mental health epidemic, the University of South Florida has crafted a plan it hopes will reach all students, from the one in crisis to the one who doesn't know he could use some help.

    A student crosses the University of South Florida campus in Tampa, where visits to the school's crisis center more than doubled last year, part of a spike in demand that has affected colleges across the country. The university is addressing the issue this year with $1.5 million for more "wellness coaches," counselors, online programs and staff training. [OCTAVIO JONES   |   Times]