This week, 58-year-old Lynthia Washington pleaded guilty to criminally negligent homicide in the death of Yevaeh Patrick-Moon, a wonderful nine-year-old who drowned in a pool at Colorado Springs's Hotel Elegante late last year. But she received no jail time. Instead, she was sentenced to two years at a halfway house.
Yevaeh's family and friends reacted to this decision with shock. During the hearing, a loved one reportedly cried out, "You let her die!"
A day later, Yevaeh's mother, Chevon Patrick, was less angry than melancholy.
"I'm just disappointed and sad," Chevon wrote via email. "Nothing will bring my baby back and the fact that Lynthia got to walk away with such a minimal sentence is just unbelievable."
While Washington's criminal case has concluded, she's not yet out of legal jeopardy. A civil suit filed by Chevon names her as a defendant along with 513 Hotel Operating LLC, the parent company of Hotel Elegante. The complaint is accessible below along with Washington's arrest warrant and the answer and jury demand from the hotel, which denies all of the allegations against it.
I knew Yevaeh, working with her as a classroom volunteer during the year she was a second-grader at Green Valley Ranch Elementary in east Denver before her family moved to Colorado Springs. She was smart, funny and quirky — an old soul in a child's body whom I feel honored to have gotten to know.
While at Green Valley Ranch, Yevaeh took swimming lessons. However, her teacher (and my daughter), Ellie Roberts, recalls that because she was such a beginner, she was restricted to the shallowest part of the pool, where she could safely stand with her head well above the water. Even then, she needed to be carefully watched at all times.
Supervision was in short supply on December 16, 2017, when Yevaeh and Washington's grandchildren headed to Hotel Elegante. According to Washington's aforementioned arrest warrant, she first left the children alone at the hotel to pick up some food at a McDonald's around half a mile away — and after everyone ate, she gave permission to Yevaeh and one of the other kids to go to an indoor pool at the facility without her. She told investigators she had intended to check on them a few minutes later. But before she could, tragedy ensued.
As for the lawsuit, it maintains that "the indoor pool was designed with a drastic slope from the shallow end to the deep end, and the transition from the shallow end to the deep end was signified by blue tiles on the bottom of the pool. However...the indoor pool did not have a rope or other flotation device separating the shallow end from the deep end."
Although the pool was equipped with a lifeguard chair, the only person on duty at the time Yevaeh arrived was a pool attendant who "was incompetent, lacked the training, supervision, experience, knowledge and understanding necessary" to act in that capacity, the suit argues.
The document also alleges that the attendant saw the girls arrive unaccompanied at the pool just after 8 p.m. on the 16th but didn't intervene, even though signage clearly indicated that a guardian needed to be present for children under age fourteen.
Minutes later, the suit states, Yevaeh jumped into the deep end of the pool and began struggling — and at 8:05 p.m., she failed to resurface.
Her friend managed to track down the pool attendant at approximately 8:14 p.m., but instead of immediately diving into the water to try and rescue Yevaeh or dialing 911, he contacted the hotel manager at the front desk. The two of them managed to pull Yevaeh from the pool a short time later, and a hotel guest who came upon the scene initiated CPR but was unable to revive her.
In the beginning, Washington was charged with child abuse — negligently causing death. However, she was later allowed to admit guilt to a lesser charge. ComCor, the halfway house to which she's been assigned, has had a controversial past: In November 2016, state and county officials criticized the nonprofit for allegedly botching two sexual-misconduct investigations shortly after a pair of residents died from suspected drug overdoses at the facility.
But if the setting leaves something to be desired, it's not a jail — where Washington would likely have been sent without a plea bargain.
The civil suit remains active at this writing. Meredith Quinlivan, an attorney with the law firm of West Huntley Gregory PC, who represents Chevon, confirms that a trial date has been set in the case: October 21, 2019. She adds that a default judgment has already been issued against Washington, who didn't file an answer to the initial complaint. As a result, Quinlivan says, "She can't challenge liability in civil court."
Meanwhile, the civil case remains in the discovery phase related to Hotel Elegante. Quinlivan is gathering evidence, conducting interviews with employees and first responders, and so on.
The lawyer reveals that a surveillance camera captured Yevaeh's last moments, and the family wanted the video played at Washington's sentencing. The judge in the case denied this request. The attorney adds that Washington's sentence "was not what the family wanted. They did want her to serve some jail time. They felt they'd already conceded a certain amount of leniency by going from a class three felony [child abuse — negligently causing death] to a class five [criminally negligent homicide], which carried a maximum of three years. And reading through the family's victims' impact statements was very emotional."
To understate the situation substantially, the past year has been an incredible challenge for Chevon. In her words, "this whole situation is unbelievable. And unfortunately, it can't be undone."
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