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Mother's lawsuit says child attacked at aquatic center

The mother of a grade schooler filed suit this week against the Brandon Sports and Aquatic Center, alleging that her daughter was sexually attacked there.

The lawsuit filed Monday in Hillsborough Circuit Court claims that on Aug. 9, 2004, the girl, then 5, was attending an afterschool sports camp at the center when she was "viciously and savagely attacked in a sexual fashion" by another camper, an 8-year-old girl, in a boys' bathroom.

The girl and her mother are not named in the lawsuit.

The lawsuit alleges that there was not proper supervision at the camp, and that the girls were left unattended while using the restrooms. The lawsuit also alleges that center employees failed to notice that the campers were missing while the attack occurred.

It says the center "failed to employ a sufficient number of adult caregivers for the number of children participating in the . . . program."

On Tuesday, Anne McFee, the center's executive director, said, "We're extremely concerned about this allegation and we don't take it lightly. We really are most concerned about the children that were involved and their welfare."

She said the camp followed all camp licensing guidelines, and that "policy changes" had been made since the incident.

She added, "The verbiage that was used (in the lawsuit), the "viciously and savagely,' does not coincide with the facts that we have."

Formerly known as the Brandon Swim and Tennis Club, the 42-year-old center is known internationally for its Olympic ties.

Olympic silver medalist Maritza Correia trained at the facility for more than a decade before she competed in Athens in 2004.

Another alum, swimmer Brooke Bennett of Plant City, was a three-time Olympic gold medalist in swimming and a bronze medalist in the 1994 World Championships.

Brandon attorney Michael S. Edenfield, who filed the suit, said Tuesday that he sent letters to the Aquatic Center starting in October 2004, asking the center to discuss the allegations. There was no reply, he said.

Although the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office took a report of the alleged assault, Hillsborough State Attorney's Office declined to file charges against the older girl, Edenfield said.

He said he wasn't sure why. The reason given is illegible on his copy of the report, he said.

He said that there is precedent for a lawsuit of this type.

"I think what you see mostly in this type of suit are the lawsuits against apartment complexes or shopping centers where there's a known problem with crime, and they don't provide security," he said.

S.I. Rosenbaum can be reached at 661-2442 or srosenbaumsptimes.com.

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