by Max Brantley
I'm opening the evening line up early. I have to get over to the Statehouse Convention Center for our West Memphis 3 panel at 6 in partnership with the Clinton School of Public Service. Somebody asked: Yes, we'll have plenty of security people in the event somebody's emotions run too high. I'm hoping civility will prevail, even if questions are hard.
* ALBERT PIKE LAWSUIT: A lawsuit has been filed against the U.S. over the 20 deaths in the flash flooding of the Forest Service's Albert Pike campground last August? News release on the jump.
* BUILDING IN FRONT OF CAPITOL: I've been promised a report on this afternoon's Capitol Zoning District Commission at which the group will decide whether to change existing height restriction rules so that Mike Beebe pal John Burkhalter can build a five-story office building across from the Capitol at 6th and Woodlane. It may be into the evening before I get it posted, but reader notes attached to this item are welcome.
* SEXUAL HARASSMENT SUIT DISMISSED: A special judge said plaintiffs had no standing to file a suit seeking dimissal of the Sebastian circuit clerk for inappropriate actions toward female employees.
FLOODING LAWSUIT RELEASE
LITTLE ROCK — The families of three victims of the deadly 2010 flood at Albert Pike Recreation Area and Campground in Arkansas have filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the United States of America.
The suit, Roeder et al v. United States of America, was filed on Aug. 4, 2011, in the U.S. District Court Western District of Arkansas. The wrongful death lawsuit alleges negligence on behalf of the United States Forest Service.
On June 9, 2010, the Roeder family, from Luling, La., gathered at Albert Pike Recreation Area Campgrounds for their annual summer vacation. The park is located about 75 miles west of Little Rock, Ark. While some of the family members set up in tents, Esther Kay Roeder, Bruce Roeder, his wife Deborah Roeder, and their daughter Tara Roeder, took their recreational vehicle to Loop D, where there was access to electricity.
A powerful storm system made its way to the Albert Pike Campgrounds in the early hours of June 11, 2010. It dumped nearly 7 inches of rain on the area, triggering a flash flood. Just before dawn, while campers were sound asleep, the Little Missouri River overran its banks into the campgrounds.
Inside the Roeder RV, Tara Roeder awoke around 3 a.m. because the camper was rocking. She roused her parents and grandmother, and when they looked outside, water was just about to come in the door of the camper. Within seconds, something — possibly a vehicle — slammed into the side of the camper. It started floating and rolling over. The family tried to walk up the side of the camper to right it, but it was no use. There was another powerful impact, and the camper imploded. All four Roeders — Esther Kay Roeder, 69; Bruce Roeder, 51; Deborah Roeder, 52; and Tara Roeder, 30 — were pulled into the roiling water and pouring rain during the pitch black of early morning.
Tara Roeder survived by clinging to a tree for more than two hours. Esther Kay, Bruce and Deborah all perished in the flood, along with 17 other people. About 60 of the estimated 200 to 300 campers at Albert Pike that weekend were rescued.
Tara Roeder, the daughter of Bruce and Deborah Roeder, and Theresa Roeder, the daughter of Esther Kay Roeder, filed the lawsuit on behalf of their family members. Attorneys Jim Freeman, Melody Piazza and Ashlie Merchant with Wilkes & McHugh, P.A. are representing the families.
The lawsuit alleges that despite the history of flash flooding in the area, the employees and agents of the U.S. Forest Service made no attempt to warn the campers of the dangerous, “flashy” nature of the Little Missouri River that bordered the camp sites. Likewise, no signs were in place to warn the campers of the flooding potential of the area. Forest Service employees were not properly trained to handle such an emergency, and there was no adequate warning system in place for campers.
Perhaps worst of all is the fact that Loop D — where the Roeders were camping — should never have been built in the first place because it was located in a flood plain. Forest Service officials knew that, but moved forward with construction anyway, according to the lawsuit. Despite warnings from experts, they designed the campground for recreational vehicles instead of primitive tent camping, a decision that made the site even more dangerous.
The lawsuit seeks damages for the physical injuries and deaths of the three Roeders and the grief and mental anguish of the surviving family members.