Judge weighs teachers’ blame for Cobb student drowning in Belize

A photo of Tomari Jackson given to the AJC from the attorneys representing his mother.
A photo of Tomari Jackson given to the AJC from the attorneys representing his mother.

Credit: Special to The AJC

Credit: Special to The AJC

After all the other cases were heard in a Cobb state civil court on Monday — ones about bad knees, people who once lived in Oklahoma and attorneys who felt personally attacked — a woman in a blazer quietly listened as attorneys argued before the judge.

Adell Forbes' case was about her 14-year-old son who died in another country two years ago.

Forbes blames several people for the death of her boy, Tomari Jackson, who drowned in a Belizean river during a North Cobb High School international studies magnet field trip on Feb. 13, 2016.

She is suing the Cobb schools chaperones — many of them teachers — on Tomari's trip, along with Monkey Bay Wildlife Sanctuary in Belize and the man who runs the wildlife sanctuary.

When Forbes' attorneys announced the lawsuit in April 2017, they showed a room of reporters a video of Tomari drowning, filmed by a camera that was attached to his head.

It shows him gasping for air feet from fellow students — close enough to touch a girl’s shoulder while underwater. At one point, he can be heard asking for help; though it sounds like his cries were muted, and it’s unclear why.

His mother gave him the camera to record his adventures in Central America. He died the first day of the trip.

The video was later released and partially shown on "Good Morning America" alongside an interview with Forbes. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution is not publishing the disturbing footage.

Read more about Tomari's death and the lawsuit here.

Forbes wasn’t asked to address the court Monday. She was attentive and scribbled notes on pink Post-it notes back and forth with her attorneys, Tricia “CK” Hoffler and Robert Arrington.

Three metro Atlanta attorneys with specialties in civil litigation — Todd Hatcher, Jennifer Nichols and Leigh Wilco — are representing some of the people being sued.

Hoffler said they spent five days in Belize interviewing people and measuring the river. Tomari was found in 30-foot-deep water, Arrington said.

Hatcher called Tomari’s death a “a very tragic accident.”

The two sets of attorneys were fighting Monday over whether the trip could be considered a school event.

READ | Camp director, nature center executive indicted in 5-year-old's drowning

That could determine possible immunity for the four chaperones who were North Cobb teachers if the judge feels they were working in their capacity as school district employees. Three were present Monday.

If they are given immunity, that leaves two other chaperones: retired teachers who were also on the trip and who were in court Monday.

Cobb state court judge Toby Prodgers didn’t make a decision on the immunity Monday, instead saying he’d take everything into advisement and make a decision later.

Forbes, the attorneys and the judge agreed to come back to argue more motions May 21 at 9 a.m.

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From the announcement of the lawsuit...

Mother talks about Cobb son who died on school trip in Belize