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Drowning lawsuit involves death of autistic teen

Published Jul. 3, 2013

TEMPLE TERRACE — Five minutes passed before another child at the nighttime swim party noticed that Kadeem Jesse Shillingford was on the bottom of the pool at the Temple Terrace Family Recreation Center on Sept. 21.

The 15-year-old boy with mild autism could not swim, and apparently no one noticed when he went down the slide in the deep end and struggled for two minutes before sinking in 12 feet of water, as was revealed by security cameras. The teen was put on life support and died four days later.

This week, the mayor and City Council met with the city's lawyers behind closed doors to discuss strategy and expenses in light of a lawsuit recently filed in the case. The boy's father sued the city, charging that lifeguards were not attentive, the water was cloudy, the lighting insufficient and the pool was not suited for swimming at night.

Tampa lawyer Cory A. Baird, who filed the lawsuit on behalf of the boy's father, Skelford Conrad Shillingford, said the city offered to settle the case for $300,000, but Baird said his client is seeking a seven-figure amount in compensation.

"It's a sad, sad case, and it was totally preventable,'' he said.

Donovan Roper, the Apopka lawyer representing the city's insurer, said Baird has asked for $2 million compensation, but Roper contends the city is liable only up to its statutory limit under sovereign immunity — $300,000.

The suit also names the boy's school, Pepin Academy, as a defendant. The charter school for children with learning-related disabilities allowed the boy to swim in the deep end after being told by the boy's father that his son could not swim, and after assuring the father that the boy would be safe, the suit alleges. Shillingford represents his son's estate in the wrongful death action.

City officials met with Roper for about 45 minutes Tuesday prior to the regular City Council meeting. Mayor Frank Chillura, City Manager Gerald Seeber and city attorney Mark Connolly also attended the meeting. The public and media were excluded under a law that allows an exception to the Florida open-government law when officials are discussing ongoing litigation.

Philip Morgan can be reached at or (813) 226-3435.


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