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DA: No criminal charges in girl's drowning off Long Beach

Long Beach lifeguards search for missing swimmer Nicole

Long Beach lifeguards search for missing swimmer Nicole Suriel. The 12-year-old Harlem girl drowned while on a school field trip. (June 22, 2010) Photo Credit: Fred Kopf

The death of Nicole Suriel, the 12-year-old Harlem girl who drowned in the waters off Long Beach in the summer while on a school trip, was tragic, but not the result of criminal acts, said a report by Nassau District Attorney Kathleen Rice.

"While the ultimate collective failure to prevent Nicole Suriel's death is particularly tragic, the evidence does not support a finding of criminality on the part of any of those involved," read the report released Monday about the June 22 death of the preteen.

But the Suriel family's attorney, Oliver Storch, said the finding would not affect his plan to sue New York City. The family filed a notice of claim in September seeking $20 million.

"The Suriel family, who is still grieving over the tragic loss of their beautiful daughter, is focusing on addressing the death of their daughter with the City of New York," said Storch, of Manhattan.

Nicole, a sixth-grader at Columbia Secondary School for Math, Science & Engineering, was among two dozen students who traveled to Long Beach on an end-of-year beach trip.

City officials could not be reached Monday night.

Rice's report is the result of an independent investigation based in part on reviews of the New York City Special Commission of Investigation report and information compiled by the Long Beach police and lifeguard department.

It traces the travels of Nicole, who didn't swim, and her classmates, providing a detailed synopsis of how she was swept away and drowned when she and others suddenly found themselves in deep water.

"Non-swimmers . . . could enter the water only up to their knees, while swimmers could go up to their waists," the report said. "Some students reported that they were being bitten by crabs, causing them to move laterally towards the jetty. At this point, some of the students started screaming, as they found themselves in water over their heads."

The report goes on to say that four students were pulled from the water and that a private citizen had tried to bring Nicole back in, but that the current was too strong.

The report concluded that the three adults who were chaperoning Nicole's class did not take excessive risks - there were other students on the beach the same day and the waters were calm despite a strong rip current - nor were they reckless in trying to supervise the children. Five other children who were swept away were pulled back.

The report looked at "whether a responsible party was aware of the risks and consciously disregarded it or, in the alternative, the decision to allow the students to enter water under the given circumstances constitutes a gross deviation from the standard of care which a reasonable person would have observed in the situation," it said, adding, "the answer to this question must be no."

Still, the drowning prompted school disciplinary actions.

The teacher who led the trip, Erin Bailey, was fired.

An assistant principal was demoted, and Principal Jose Maldonado-Rivera was placed on probation based on a report issued over the summer by the school system's special investigation commissioner, Richard Condon.
Condon chided Bailey for letting students go into the water where no lifeguards were on duty and concluded that there was too little adult supervision and inadequate procuring of permission slips.

His report cited poor planning by school leadership and poor judgment in the adults' apparent failure to grasp the danger of the lifeguards' absence.

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