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Teen who tried to save drowning classmates sues MCCD

WOODSTOCK – A Chicago student who tried to save three of his drowning classmates and witnessed their deaths at Camp Algonquin last November is suing the McHenry County Conservation District.

According to the lawsuit, Marshawn Williams is seeking more than $50,000 for injuries and emotional distress that he suffered as a result of MCCD's negligence.

Thirty-one students at North Lawndale College Preparatory Charter High School attended the leadership retreat at YMCA Camp Algonquin on Nov. 14, 2008. Jimmy Avant, 18; Melvin Choice Jr., 17, and Adrian Jones, 16, of Chicago died after officials said they sneaked out of their cabins and took paddle boats onto the Fox River.

But the drain plugs had been removed for the winter and the boats sunk.

The lawsuit alleges that the conservation district failed to secure the paddle boats or warn the students of the unsafe conditions and did not require the students to be adequately chaperoned.

Williams' father, Robert, declined to comment Friday, but in the days after the incident told the Northwest Herald that his son was struggling to come to terms with the deaths.

“The tragedy that took the lives of his schoolmates just blew him away,” Robert Williams said last November. “Emotionally, he’s a wreck. He’s a leader in the school. He feels responsible because he wasn’t able to save them.”

MCCD Executive Director Elizabeth Kessler declined to comment Friday, saying that the district had yet to be served with the lawsuit.

A report by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources said that contributing factors to the accident were operator inexperience, hazardous waters, cold weather, clothing and failure to wear personal flotation devices. It also said noted that the boats had not been secured after the plugs were removed.

The families of two the students who died also have filed personal injury lawsuits. Avant's family and Choice's mother are suing YMCA McHenry County, North Lawndale Prep, and the company that organized the retreat.

Williams' lawsuit is next due in court March 18.

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