A Colorado mother alleges The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and one of its youth leaders are responsible for her son's drowning during a boat outing at Quail Creek State Park last summer.
Tory Jones, 17, was living in Hurricane with his father and grandparents. He went with John Robert Sorenson, an LDS Church youth leader, and five other youths to the reservoir on Aug. 4, 2011, according to a civil complaint filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court by Tammy Jones. The reservoir is located about 13 miles northeast of St. George.
Sorenson dropped Tory in the water at least 50 yards from shore around 7:30 p.m. and took off in the boat with two other boys to wakeboard near the dam, a court document states. Tory, who was not equipped with a personal flotation device, began to experience difficulty swimming and called out to three youths on the shore for help, according to the court filing. It says the boys heard Tory call out but, after seeing him leave the boat, did not see him in the water.
That account differs from an official park report issued last summer on the drowning, which said those on the boat saw Tory on shore after he jumped into the water and that he disappeared sometime after that.
But that does not appear to be the case, said Chad A. Bowers of Las Vegas, one of the attorneys representing Tammy Jones.
"We allege that the information originally reported was inaccurate," Bowers said. "The evidence demonstrates that this boy unfortunately did not ever make it to the shore."
According to the complaint, Sorenson became aware Tory was missing after returning to pick up the boys sometime later and a search ensued that evening without success. The next day, searchers found Tory's body submerged in 22 feet of water.
The complaint alleges Sorenson had a duty and obligation to ensure Tory was properly equipped and supervised during the outing and that he was unprepared to deal with any swimming emergency. It seeks damages for the pain and suffering Tory experienced and for the loss of his companionship. An obituary published last August said Tory hoped to go on a service mission for the LDS Church and then attend college.
The lawsuit says the LDS Church is liable for the negligence because it had a "master-servant" relationship with Sorenson and control over activities he led.
"This is truly a sad situation and we pray for all those affected by this tragedy. The pending litigation regarding this case makes it inappropriate for us to comment at this time," said Scott Trotter, a media spokesman for the LDS Church.