School to be built in Guinea to honor Lilydale landslide victim

  • Article by: CHAO XIONG , Star Tribune
  • Updated: May 12, 2014 - 8:56 PM

Two children were killed and one seriously injured at Lilydale Park in 2013. One family plans to build a school in their son’s memory.

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Haysem Sani (left) and Mohammed Fofana

The family of a young boy killed in a landslide at Lilydale Regional Park last year will use money from settlements with the city of St. Paul and St. Louis Park Public Schools to build a school in his honor in the Republic of Guinea, his father’s native country.

The parents of Mohamed Fofana, 10, are using “almost all” of the money from their settlements to build the school in the west African nation, said their attorney John Goetz.

“It’s meant to be in his honor and to keep his memory alive,” Goetz said Monday.

Fofana and Haysem Sani, 9, were killed last May 22 when a waterlogged cliff fell on them while their fourth-grade class from Peter Hobart Elementary School in St. Louis Park was on a field trip at Lilydale Regional Park in St. Paul. Devin Meldahl was buried waist-deep for 45 minutes before he was rescued, and student Lucas Lee sprained his ankle.

Hennepin County District Judge Philip Carruthers on Monday approved a $200,000 settlement between the school district and the families of Fofana, Sani and Meldahl. The settlement was reached without suit, but the law requires a judge to approve settlements for injured minors and wrongful-death cases.

The St. Louis Park school district will pay $80,000 each to Fofana’s and Sani’s families, and $40,000 to Meldahl’s family. The families reached a record $1 million settlement with the city of St. Paul in March. Fofana’s and Sani’s families each received $400,000 in that settlement. Meldahl’s family received $200,000.

Neither the city nor the school district admitted liability in settling the cases. Lee’s family was not party to either settlement, but is currently being represented by Goetz with intentions to initiate talks.

Goetz said Fofana’s family was moved to honor their son with a school because the boy had visited his father’s homeland, was struck by its poverty and wanted to help. Fofana’s mother plans to visit the country this summer to oversee construction, Goetz said.

A portion of their money will also be set aside for their two surviving sons.

Sani’s family will also donate to charity. Sani’s mother, Sartu Nagayo, and his stepfather plan to build an orphanage in Ethiopia with their settlements, said their attorney Paul Godlewski.

Although Sani was born in the United States, he visited his parents’ homeland when he was 6, Godlewski said, and was “struck by what he saw, especially young children who were on the streets.”

Meldahl, meanwhile, suffered a skull fracture that continues to cause him headaches and problems with balance, Goetz said. His family’s settlement will help pay for ongoing medical care and testing for possible brain injuries, Goetz said.

Two reports commissioned by St. Paul after the 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, and not to visitors.

 

Chao Xiong • 612-270-4708

Twitter: @ChaoStrib

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