Hobart pit owner may face charges, city attorney says
By Karen Caffarini Post-Tribune correspondent June 26, 2014 5:24PM
Tatiana Smith and her sons, Terrion and Donel | Teresa Auch Schultz/For the Post-Tribune
Updated: June 27, 2014 2:02AM
HOBART — The city attorney is considering legal action against the owner of the property where two boys drowned for knowingly violating ordinances and regulations while creating a deep, water-filled pit.
According to a preliminary police investigation released Thursday, owner Randy Goldschmidt was told what procedures he had to follow by various city officials on several different occasions.
City Attorney Anthony DeBonis said Thursday he hasn’t made a decision on whether he will take legal action because the police investigation is not complete.
“I have no authority to bring a criminal case or file for civil damages for the tragic loss of those boys. I can only act in the city’s interests,” DeBonis said.
Goldschmidt couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.
Police Chief Richard Zormier said the investigation is complicated and would take several more days to complete, but he released some findings.
According to the report, two police officers had to swim to depths of 12 to 20 feet to recover Terrion Smith, 8, and his brother, Donel Smith, 9, from the bottom of the pit on June 14.
The brothers were with a group of children when Terrion began to panic in the water and Donel tried to help him but then began to panic himself, according to the police report.
A teenager in the group tried to save the brothers, but had to stop and save himself when the panicked brothers began pulling him underwater.
The report said the pit had a short ledge and sharp drop-off and was deeper than it looked.
Excavation began in April 2013, at which time the city engineer, Phil Gralik, told Goldschmidt he would need engineering drawings of the project and a site plan review by the plan commission before he could receive a permit for what he said would be a fishing pond.
Stormwater coordinator Tim Kingsland later discovered a drain tile and a breach in a berm were contributing to improper runoff onto a neighboring property. He told Goldschmidt it would be up to him to figure out how to prevent the runoff. He also told Goldschmidt he would need a stormwater pollution prevention plan for his project to continue.
Goldschmidt’s solution was to fill the berm with clay and plug the drain tile, which caused the site to retain water, the report stated.
On another visit to the site, prompted by neighbors’ complaints of Goldschmidt possibly mining sand from the site, city inspectors noted it looked like the owner was trying to get the pond to be under one acre, under the mistaken belief he would not need a permit.
Goldschmidt told the officials he would get the engineer’s drawings and apply for the site plan review.
Last month, two city officials met on the site after receiving a complaint from neighbors about standing water in the pit and exposed trees buried in the fill. They noted Goldschmidt had not obtained a fill permit for the site with the pit.
He did not fulfill other requirements, the report said.
Two days after the drownings, city officials arrived at the site to tell Goldschmidt he would need to fence the pit or make it safe, but Goldschmidt had already breached the berm, drained the pit and begun backfilling.
On June 15, the building commissioner issued an Order to Comply, requiring Goldschmidt to remove all berms installed without a permit, install erosion control, grade the lot to prevent water from filling in any spot and remove all debris.
Police said Goldschmidt told them juveniles regularly trespassed onto his property and an adult once threatened him for ordering juveniles off the property. He said a lock on the cable securing his property was cut weekly.
“Upon checking records, Hobart Police had received no complaints of trespassers on the property until after the drowning of the two boys,” police said.