Video of Drowning American Student in Belize Surfaces

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Updated: April 18, 2017

A video recording has surfaced showing how Tomari Jackson, the student of North Cobb High School in Georgia, USA, drowned in the Sibun River in the Monkey Bay Wildlife Sanctuary in Belize last year. The 14-year-old travelled to Belize with 31 other students and visited the education and training center in Belize during a weeklong trip in February 2016 but never made it back home. His mother, Adell Forbes, filed a lawsuit in Cobb State Court on March 24 this year. The lawsuit accuses the Cobb County School District, the Cobb County Government, the Monkey Bay Wildlife Sanctuary in Belize and the sanctuary’s owner and six adult chaperones of “willful, wanton and unconscionable disregard” and negligence that caused Jackson’s death. Forbes is now using a video recorded on a portable camera Jackson carried during the trip that shows his drowning to prove it was preventable. Forbes and her lawyers got a hold of the video only a few weeks ago. The camera which recorded his last minutes was not returned with his body and Forbes’ attorneys say they don’t know why. Forbes got the camera back after the US State Department called her saying the agency had it. Her attorneys believe farmers in Belize found the camera, handed it to Matthew Miller, the owner of Monkey Bay, who then gave it to the U.S. Embassy, which called Forbes. On Friday last week, Forbes’ attorneys showed a short clip of the video to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. According to news reports, the video shows Jackson taking off his grey and blue Crocs and heading into the ankle deep river water. It shows him floating downriver 30 to 40 yards to where the water became about twenty-five feet deep. Attorneys say he was swimming fine then got out of breath. Some of the 31 other students were within arm’s reach as he shouted for help; one of them was reportedly a girl in a red checkered swimsuit who “laughed it off”. Then he reached out to grab the muddy riverbank where others were playing but still, no one saw him or heard him. It was until an hour later when staff took a headcount that they realized he was missing. Jackson’s body was found the following day on February 14th.  “There’s evidence from the video cam there were chaperones on the beach, one or two in the water, not paying full attention to what was going on,” said Forbes’ attorney Tricia ‘CK’ Hoffler. “We hear his cries of help. No one was paying attention to Tomari Jackson,” Hoffler added. The Cobb School District and Cobb County government declined to comment on the pending litigation. After watching the video, Forbes is quoted as saying, “I’m led to believe from after looking at the video that his safety was never a priority or a concern and that is just beyond amazing,” end of quote. Her lawyer insisted “It was completely preventable. It was completely avoidable.” Forbes is seeking punitive damages for her son’s mental and physical pain and suffering, funeral and burial costs and the loss of future familial support and companionship. Today Matthew Miller, the owner of Monkey Bay wrote to Love News stating that in the 23 years assisting faculty-led programs to access Belize’s natural and cultural diversity it remains quote, “in good standing with all local licensing and regulatory agencies, and actively maintain and rehearse safety and security procedures on a recurring basis,” end of quote. Miller says that immediately following the incident his directors reached out to Jackson’s family informing them about what had happened at the Sibun River.  “Matt Miller, Monkey Bay Director, traveled to Atlanta with Tomari’s remains to meet with Adell and personally express our collective sorrow for the accident.  We also contributed funds to assist with funeral expenses and later visited Tomari’s gravesite in Marietta, GA to pay our respects” the statement added. It did not however address the lawsuit against the sanctuary and his person.