The relatives of a man and his nephew who drowned in Lake Worth in September have filed a wrongful-death lawsuit against the city, saying dredging in the lake created a dangerous situation.
Juan Zacarias, 24, and his nephew Javier, 15, drowned Sept. 1 after initially wading in waist-high water about 75 feet from shore. Juan stepped into a trench that was 9 to 12 feet deep, and when he began to struggle, Javier tried to save him, according to the lawsuit filed in Tarrant County civil court.
David Jones, an attorney for Misael Zacarias, Juan’s father, said that the city had been dredging nearby and that no warning signs were posted about the dangers of being in the lake. It’s not clear whether the two wore life jackets.
The suit accuses Fort Worth of failing to post warnings about the deep trench and failing to implement safety measures.
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“There were no signs; there was nothing. That was part of the big problem,” Jones said.
Assistant City Attorney Gerald Pruitt said he has seen the suit but cannot comment on any specifics in pending litigation.
“It is a tragedy for the family, but we don’t think the city is liable,” Pruitt said.
Divers from the Fort Worth Fire Department found the bodies the next day not far from where the two were last seen in the 7400 block of Cahoba Drive, just north of Naval Air Station Fort Worth.
The Tarrant County medical examiner listed the cause of death as drowning.
Juan Zacarias’ sister Monica and his nephew Richard Zacarias, who had been wading with Juan and Javier, witnessed the drownings, the lawsuit says.
“As a result of the dangerous conditions created by the trench, Javier and Juan plummeted to their tragic deaths,” it says. “Regrettably, both Javier and Juan would be alive today had they been warned of the dangers and placement of the trench, and/or if the trench had been properly dredged.”
Jones said that the Zacarias family tried to talk to Fort Worth before taking legal action but that the city hasn’t been responsive enough.
The Zacarias family is seeking damages for mental anguish, loss of companionship, loss of inheritance, and medical and funeral expenses.
This report includes material from the Star-Telegram archives.