St. Paul City Council approves record $1 million settlement in deadly Lilydale landslide

  • Article by: CHAO XIONG , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 12, 2014 - 8:02 PM

St. Paul City Council approved a record $1 million settlement with families of three boys killed or injured during a field trip to the park.

The St. Paul City Council approved a $1 million settlement Wednesday between the city and the families of two boys killed and one boy injured in a landslide at Lilydale Regional Park last year.

It’s the largest settlement paid by the city.

“I think it’s a fair settlement and a good resolution for the city of St. Paul and the families,” said Council Member Chris Tolbert, who led the meeting. “It’s a sad situation.”

The settlement agreement, first reported last week, stipulates that the families and their attorneys reveal little about the settlement talks and prohibits future civil litigation in the accident, which took the lives of Mohamed Fofana, 10, and Haysem Sani, 9, and seriously injured classmate Devin Meldahl.

The boys, all fourth-graders at Peter Hobart Elementary School in St. Louis Park, fell when a waterlogged cliff collapsed during a class fossil hunt. Lucas Lee, another child who was injured, was not a party to the settlement.

The families of Mohamed and Haysem each will receive $400,000, and Devin’s family will receive $200,000. The city is not admitting liability but “intends merely to avoid litigation and buy its peace.”

Two reports commissioned by St. Paul after the May 22 accident concluded that the city couldn’t have predicted or prevented the landslide. The studies found that city staffers knew about erosion in the park but thought it a threat to the environment, not to visitors.

A 2009 city-commissioned report used as a guide in improving the park warned that evaluating erosion should be a “high” priority. But the city hadn’t acted on that before the landslide occurred.

Jon Kerr, a St. Paul resident and organizer with Friends of Lilydale Park, attended Wednesday’s vote. Kerr said his sympathies are with the families but added that there’s more he wants the city to divulge about what happened and why.

“How do we move beyond and really know what happened?” said Kerr, who was critical of the city-commissioned reports. “I don’t think [the settlement] provides closure for anything.”

The fossil grounds remain closed, and it’s unclear whether they will reopen.

The families’ attorneys said they are in discussion with the school district’s attorneys, hoping to resolve any claims without litigation.

Chao Xiong • 612-270-4708 • Twitter: @ChaoStrib

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