Tyler residents file wrongful death lawsuit over deadly Arkansas campsite flood

Michelle Keahey, East Texas Bureau Jan. 4, 2012, 5:38am

TYLER - Three Tyler residents have filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the U.S government for failing to prevent Albert Pike campgrounds in Arkansas from being built in a historical flood zone and not warning of the potential for flooding.

Natisha L. Rachal, on behalf of her minor son Troy Austin Rachal, and Benjamin and Judy Pate, on behalf of their minor son Brady Lynn Pate, filed suit against the United States of America on Dec. 23 in the Eastern District of Texas, Tyler Division.

The plaintiffs are residents of Smith County, Texas.

The government agencies sued include the U.S Department of Agriculture/U.S. Forest Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration/National Weather Service.

The Albert Pike Recreation Area of the Ouachita National Forest in Montgomery County, Ark., is managed by the U.S. Forest Service. The area is next to the Little Missouri River and has approximately 54 campsites arranged along four separate loop roads.

On June 11, 2010, the Little Missouri River rose more than 20 feet overnight and overran its banks into the Albert Pike campgrounds where the plaintiffs' minor children were camping. Troy Austin Rachal was with his father, Anthony Keith Smith, and his half-sisters. Brady Pate, a close friend of Troy, was also camping with the group of 11.

Although the Troy and Brady survived the flood by clinging onto trees, Troy's father Anthony Smith was killed. Only 5 of the 11 in the group survived.

According to the lawsuit, there have been at least 10 documented flood events at Albert Pike since 1940. The Forest Service was put on notice regarding the dangers of locating and constructing the campgrounds within a 100-year flood plain and were warned of previous floods in the area, the suit states.

The lawsuit argues that the U.S. Forest Service and the National Weather Service failed to properly maintain the severe weather and flooding warning system and failed to correct communication problems that prevented campers form learning of the imminent dangers of flooding in the campgrounds.

The children suffered physical injuries and severe psychological and emotional injuries.

The parents are asking the court for an award of damages for physical, emotional and psychological injuries, medical and counseling expenses, loss of love and affection and support by the wrongful death of the minor's father, punitive damages, interest and court costs.

The plaintiffs are represented by Sam N. Gregorio, Roy S. Payne, and Julie Payne Johnson of Gregorio, Gregory, Payne Chafin & Johnson in Shreveport, La..

U.S. District Judge Leonard E. Davis is assigned to the case.

Case No. 6:11-cv-00698

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