An instructor responsible for caring for a 4-year-old boy who died during his second day of swim class has been charged in connection to his death.
Lexie Tenhuisen told investigators she did not know how Israel “Izzy” Scott drowned while she was wrapping up the class in a private pool near Augusta, Georgia, on June 14.
However, Jared T. Williams, district attorney for the Augusta Judicial Circuit, told the boy’s family this week he has filed charges against the instructor for involuntary manslaughter. Since the local authorities declined to press charges against Tenhuisen in July, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation will issue the arrest warrant.
“Izzy Scott is not a case. He is not a file on a desk, nor an article in the news,” Williams said in a statement. “He is a child whose loss has broken the heart of our community. He is a symbol of how we should cherish our little ones and hold them tight.”
Izzy’s mother, Dori Scott, told Atlanta Black Star in a July interview that the boy’s older sister had taken swim classes with the traveling instructor years before she signed up her first son. Parents were required to stay in their vehicles during the lesson, so she didn’t know Izzy had to be pulled out of the pool’s deep end until another woman alerted her. A nurse’s quick thinking and life-saving efforts did not save the boy. She later found out.
One of the nine other students in the class told the Burke County Sheriff’s Office he saw Izzy get out of the pool after they were instructed to do a final lap, but he heard a splash 10 seconds later.
However, Tenhuisen said she made sure all of the children exited the pool before she got out. According to the sheriff’s report, she was greeting parents walking in for the next class when her granddaughter discovered Izzy at the bottom of the pool while pulling the vacuum out ahead of the next class.
Witnesses said she immediately jumped in and pulled him out of the water, according to the sheriff’s report. Nancy Hillis, a nurse who also brought her child for lessons that day, stepped in to perform CPR. He was pronounced dead later at a nearby hospital.
Izzy’s aunt, Lydia Glover-Fields, said another student mentioned that he was coughing and throwing up the first day of class, but Tenhuisen did not tell his mother. Mason Washington, the student, who heard the splash after the final lap, said Izzy had also gotten on the diving board on the first day.
Dori Scott said her family was disheartened over the holidays, experiencing their first Christmas without Izzy. The boy lived in Augusta with his parents, younger brother and older sister.
“I get so upset every time I think about the fact that NO my baby boy did not die because he was sick but because of the negligence of someone that was paid to do our family a service to prevent what actually happened to him from happening,” the mother wrote on Facebook on Dec. 27. “He was a perfectly healthy 4 year old that had a whole bright future ahead of him. He was so smart, kind, loving, adventurous and a sweet-spirited boy.”
The district attorney said he decided to pursue changes five months after the county sheriff concluded Tenhuisen did not willfully neglect the child after conferring with Burke County’s Solicitor General’s Office.
“Why should a child so innocent, so precious, leave us so young? How could the law be so insufficient, placing no safeguards over the very people who are entrusted as lifeguards over our children?” Williams said in a statement. “As I have struggled with these questions, I recognize that I can neither question God’s timing nor expect to understand His providence. What I can do is use the law to create the change this community wishes to see.”
If convicted, Tenhuisen could face up to 12 months in prison and a $1,000 fine for the misdemeanor charge.
“The truth is this: nothing done in a courtroom can ever repair the harm done to Izzy’s family. Many have called for felony charges and a lengthy prison sentence for this offense,” Williams said. “Neither the law nor the facts support such a result. After discussing this decision, both the family and the State of Georgia are in lockstep that the aim of this prosecution is not retribution, but Accountability under the law.”
Dori Scott said Saturday morning that she never “wanted to have someone locked up for the rest of their life” for her son’s drowning, but the instructor did not even apologize or admit any wrongdoing.
“After 6 months, we have some sort of accountability and acknowledgment that someone did wrong. It’s sad that it had to take this long to acknowledge the fact that you paid someone who had a business to teach your son to swim (after she stated that parents couldn’t stay) and you never got him back,” she wrote on Facebook. “As a mother in pain and heartbroken just this small step helps my heart a little… Although we still don’t know what happened to Izzy in the pool (only speculation), at least it’s acknowledged that it’s wrong and someone is being held accountable.”