Family of Seaford teen who died on band trip plans to sue school district

Robert Tutaj with his wife Eileen are the Robert Tutaj with his wife Eileen are the parents of the Seaford High School student who passed away on a school trip. (April 15, 2013) Photo Credit: Howard Schnapp

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The family of a 15-year-old Seaford boy who died suddenly on a school trip to California in February said Monday they will sue the Seaford school district for negligence.

Joseph Tutaj died of what an autopsy later showed was an "invasive streptococcal infection" during a weeklong school marching band trip that included performances and visits to amusement parks such as Disneyland.

Surrounded by lawyers at a news conference in Garden City, his father and mother said Monday a lawsuit won't bring their son back, but might help prevent similar tragedies in the future.

"My son should be coming home from school now and playing catch with me," said Robert Tutaj, 56. His death is something "I'm never going to be able to accept. He should still be alive right now."

The lawyers said they will file the suit within the next month in state Supreme Court in Mineola.

Seaford school officials did not respond to requests Monday seeking comment. Previously, school district superintendent Brian Conboy said, "We are confident that our staff followed all necessary protocols." He added that the youth was treated with "the utmost care and concern."

Jack Grossman, a Flushing-based attorney representing the family, said Monday that "in some cases tragic situations such as this are unavoidable." But Tutaj's death "could have been avoided. If Joseph had been provided with medical treatment sooner, it is very likely that he could have been placed on antibiotics, which would have saved his life."

Grossman contended that school chaperones on the trip failed to get proper medical treatment for Tutaj after he fell ill. Grossman said the boy was left at medical facilities at Disneyland and at least one other amusement park, before he was finally brought to an urgent care medical center and then a hospital.

He died at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center on Feb. 19. Eight chaperones were in charge of 80 students during the trip, Grossman said. It is not clear how Tutaj contracted the disease.

"It's a travesty that he was dragged around to all these places and the itinerary of the trip seemed more important than his well-being," Robert Tutaj said.

According to the New York State Department of Health, invasive strep is a severe and sometimes life-threatening infection in which bacteria invade parts of the body, such as the blood, deep muscle and fat tissue, or the lungs.

The state Health Department website says the bacteria are spread by "direct contact with nose and throat discharges of an infected individual or with infected skin lesions."

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