Arkansas panel: State not responsible for drowning deaths

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — An Arkansas panel has determined that the state is not responsible for the drowning deaths of a woman and her son, saying there was not a state official directly supervising the 911 dispatcher involved.

Jinglei Yi, 39, died January 2013 after an ice patch sent her vehicle into a pond in Little Rock. Le Yang, her 5-year-old son, was rescued but died two years later, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported.

Seven months after the wreck, Yi’s husband, Dayong Yang, filed a lawsuit in Pulaski County Circuit Court against the city and former 911 dispatcher Candace Middleton for failing to manually enter her 911 call into the system. Rescue units had not been dispatched until nearly 30 minutes after the call was received.

In 2016, Yang filed a claim with the Arkansas Claims Commission against the Department of Emergency Management, which coordinated the state 911 system. The General Assembly created the five-member panel to give complainants who say they’ve been wronged by a state agency a chance to seek compensation for property damage, personal injury, and other claims.

But the panel said Monday in its five-page decision that it is “unwilling to find that the existence of a 911 coordinator means that the state is supervising every 911 dispatcher and emergency responder.”

The decision came after Yang had previously won a 2013 wrongful-death lawsuit against Middleton. In October 2018, a circuit court judge ordered Middleton to pay a $17.6 million judgment after finding her liable for damages, including suffering and loss of life. She didn’t respond to the lawsuit or enroll an attorney.

The city was dismissed from the lawsuit due to immunity.