Pantego sued in man’s 2011 death at Camp Thurman

01/06/2014 4:21 PM

01/08/2014 3:38 PM

Camp Thurman and the town of Pantego are being sued after a 30-year-old man who entered the property after hours fell to his death from a zip line tower platform two years ago.

Jeremy Gandy entered the camp in December 2011 by scaling the fence between it and the city’s Bicentennial Park, according to the lawsuit and a police report. Gandy climbed to the platform of a 30-foot tower, slipped and fell. He died from blunt force trauma to his head, torso and right arm.

The lawsuit, filed by attorneys representing Monica Cooper and Erica Polo, mothers of two of Gandy’s children, accuses the camp and the city of negligence in failing to secure the facility from trespassers. It says camp employees knew that people routinely trespassed on the property after hours.

Kristina Kastl, an attorney representing Cooper and Polo, said the camp is “inherently unsafe” to the public since it is not in a secluded area and said children and others could easily gain access to it. She filed the lawsuit last month in a civil court in Tarrant County.

“It’s reasonable to assume that when there is an attractive nuisance, that (a) passers-by would be attracted to a zip line and a cargo net allowing them easy access,” she said.

The suit also names Camp Director James Rose, Pantego Bible Church and FAIC, a nonprofit organization that owns the land and is involved in operating the camp.

An attorney representing Camp Thurman said that officials there “mourn this loss of life” but that the camp is not responsible for Gandy’s death.

“While we cannot comment on the pending lawsuit, we firmly believe that Camp Thurman will be vindicated when the true facts come to light,” Scott Self said in an e-mailed statement.

Tom Griffith, Pantego’s interim city manager and the chief of public safety, said he was unaware of the lawsuit.

David Daniels, senior pastor at Pantego Bible Church, said the church has no “formal or legal relationship” with Camp Thurman, although the land for the camp was originally provided by church members in 1969.

Camp Thurman is on 14 acres near West Pioneer Parkway. Utilizing its trees, creeks and gullies, the camp offers a “fun in the woods” day camp is for children ages 4 through those finishing fifth grade, according to its website.

It also offers Afternoon Explosion Camps for children ages 8 to 11, as well as summer camps.

On Dec. 26, 2011, Gandy entered Camp Thurman with a female companion between 3 and 4 a.m. by climbing over a “crisscross fence” separating the city’s Bicentennial Park on the northwest edge of the camp, according to the lawsuit and a police report provided to the Star-Telegram by the camp’s attorney.

The woman told police that she and Gandy had been drinking at a local bar and went to the park, where they were “chasing each other and playing tag,” according to a police report. They climbed up the tower using a 7-foot-wide cargo net ladder. The gate to its spiral staircase was locked, a police report says.

Police reports say that Gandy had entered the park this way several times before and the tower is the only place that allows easier access to the property — the rest of the camp is enclosed and the entrances have locked gates, police reports say. Another report says that Polo later told them that Gandy considered the tower his “secret spot,” a place he went to think about things.

However, Self disputed the allegations in the lawsuit that Gandy and the woman entered the camp through Bicentennial Park, saying a high wooden privacy fence divided the camp from park property and is still still in place.

The attorney said that to get into the camp, Gandy and Polo likely climbed a low crisscross fence in a woman’s yard that borders the camp and is also close to the tower where Gandy fell, Self said. Self also said that Gandy did not climb a zip line tower but went to the top of a “high ropes element” tower called the Wild Woozy.

According to the Tarrant County medical examiner, Gandy died from “blunt force trauma of head and chest due to fall from height.” A toxicology report says Gandy had a high concentration of alcohol in his blood and urine. His blood alcohol level was 0.198, over the legal limit for driving. The report also indicates there were traces of marijuana in Gandy’s body when he died.

Cooper and Polo are seeking damages of over $1 million for loss of companionship, mental anguish, loss of parenting services and loss of inheritance.

Staff writer Max B. Baker contributed to this report.

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