The family of a 4-year-old girl who drowned last year after falling into an irrigation pond at the Newark Country Club is suing the country club and the city, claiming both entities failed to protect the child from harm.
The lawsuit, filed in Delaware Superior Court last month, stems from an incident that occurred on June 13, 2015, when 4-year-old Mariah Neveah Selby was at a private party outside the George Wilson Center with her father. The city-run community center is often rented out to citizens.
At some point, the young girl wandered away from the group and onto the adjacent country club property, where she slipped into the pond. Someone called 911 and when first responders arrived, attendees of the party were already in the pond searching for Mariah.
Within two-and-a-half minutes, a firefighter and a Newark Police officer pulled her from the water and performed CPR along with New Castle County Paramedics. She was then rushed to Christiana Hospital, where she later died.
According to court documents, Mariah’s mother, Tanesha Williams, and father, Lamar Selby, are suing the country club and city for an unspecified amount to cover Mariah’s hospital bills and funeral expenses in addition to damages from their emotional distress, including “anxiety, depression and a sense of loss.”
The lawsuit states that Selby directly witnessed the injury to Mariah, which caused him to suffer “severe emotional shock, trauma and psychological injury with physical manifestations.” As a result, the lawsuit states, Selby has been experiencing “sleeplessness, anxiety, depression and other symptoms, and will continue to suffer in the future.”
Mariah’s parents are also claiming negligence because the country club and city failed to post additional warning signs and improve the surrounding fence following an incident in 2001, when a young child drowned in the very same pond.
On Jan. 20, 2001, an 8-year-old boy climbed a fence and was walking on the frozen pond with his 11-year-old sister and 13-year-old cousin when he fell through the ice. The sister ran home to alert her mother, and country club personnel called 911.
The boy was trapped for 45 minutes before firefighters plucked him from the icy water. He initially survived but died a year later from his injuries.
The boy’s family sued the country club, but the Delaware Supreme Court ruled that the club was not liable because the child’s behavior was his parents’ responsibility and the pond was not an “attractive nuisance.”
Mariah’s parents claim that in their daughter’s case, the city and country club knew of the danger created by the pond and failed to take reasonable measures to provide a safe walkway. According to the lawsuit, they are also claiming the city and country club failed to properly secure the pond, maintain the path and fence, and post warnings that a pond was on the premises.
Near the pond there is a padlocked gate – adorned with a “No Trespassing” sign – that separates the country club from the community center property, and a chain-link fence obscured by brush and weeds runs along the length of the property line, behind the George Wilson Center’s baseball diamond and tennis courts.
Mariah likely entered the property through a gap where it appears the fence was broken. Just a thin, rusty metal bar and a few weeds spanned the gap, making it easy to enter the country club property.
A day after Mariah’s death, Laura DelPercio, general manager of Newark Country Club, said she was not aware of the gap in the fence and could not confirm how long it had been there. Asked if the club was planning any improvements to the fence, she said she would wait until the investigation was complete and “go from there.”
More than a year later, the gap in the fence is still there and there are no visible improvements to the area other than a short, temporary wooden fence the city erected last summer. The fence, which appears to have been repurposed from somewhere else, blocks off the tree-lined path that leads to the broken country club fence. The area between the fences has become overgrown with weeds.
At the time it was installed, a city spokesman acknowledged that the temporary fence wouldn’t keep a determined child or adult off the country club property but said it serves as a “clear delineation” that the area is off-limits.
The city and the country club both declined to comment Wednesday.