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Families of teens who drowned file lawsuit

Photo by Brian Giandelone

Photo by Brian Giandelone

LAWRENCEVILLE -- The families of two Dacula teens who drowned after falling through an iced-over subdivision pond last year are suing for millions, claiming Fire Department rescuers and neighborhood leaders were negligent in preventing the deaths.

The parents of Jacob Bullock, 14, and Marvens Mathurin, 13, are seeking a combined $20 million in suits that list Gwinnett County, the county's Fire Department and the Daniel Park Community Association as defendants, according to complaints filed Thursday in Gwinnett State Court.

Atlanta attorney R. Keegan Federal Jr., who represents both families, said the basis for the suits is that Gwinnett firefighters waited about 40 minutes on shore for a boat to arrive before attempting a rescue. The neighborhood association is at fault, the suits claim, for not fencing off the pond or warning residents about the dangers of venturing onto frozen waters, an anomaly in Georgia.

"It's just perplexing why the rescuers didn't do anything," Federal said. "The witnesses tell us they hesitated too long."

A county spokesperson declined comment, citing a policy that prohibits commenting on pending litigation. A Fire Department spokesman also declined comment.

Federal said the damages both families are seeking would be paid by insurance liability, and that the $20 million figure is likely unrealistic. The suit comes nearly 11/2 years after the January 2010 incident because Federal and his associates have been conducting a time-consuming investigation and interviewing witnesses, he said.

Both families still live in the Daniel Park subdivision, he said.

The teens died when ice broke beneath them as they played near the middle of the semi-frozen neighborhood pond. A friend, Alex Paul, 15, pulled himself from the frigid waters and survived. Rescue workers talked Paul into swimming ashore and treated him for hypothermia and shock, officials said at the time.

Federal contends that at least one rescuer on scene was wearing a wet suit but neglected to enter the water without a boat.

Rescuers in boats used 10-foot poles to locate and pull the others to the surface, but not before they'd been submerged for nearly an hour, officials said.

The fatal plunge happened hours after Fire Department authorities issued a warning to stay off lakes and ponds during a prolonged bout of unusually frigid temperatures -- and subsequent school closings -- that week.

Federal said the next step in the suit will be formal responses from the county and subdivision. A timeline for a resolution is dependent on the courts, he said.

"Obviously our hope would be to avoid unnecessary and expensive litigation," Federal said, "and get the case resolved for the policy limits of whatever insurance is available."

The Bullock family recently hosted a road race to benefit the Jacob D. Bullock Foundation, which they established to fund scholarships and mentor programs for youth in their son's honor. The foundation raised about $10,000 at its first dinner on Aug. 15, which would have been Jacob's 15th birthday, Heidi and Jay Bullock recently told the Daily Post.