News 2 I-Team: County responds to wrongful death suit after toddler died at park

The News 2 I-Team has learned new details in the legal battle over who's to blame for the death of a toddler at a local water park.

It's been nearly a year since three-year-old Duffy McLemore drowned at James Island County Park.  His body was recovered in a pond near the splash pad where he was playing with his siblings and cousin.

According to newly released police reports, divers found the little boy under the floating dock in seven feet of pond water. He was found roughly two hours after the massive search began.

Since his death, family has been pushing for changes at the park to protect other children.  Last month the family filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the county and the park. Shortly after, attorneys for the county filed a response that essentially says the county isn’t responsible for the toddler’s death, putting blame on the parents.

The response filed on March 30 says the parents failed to keep a lookout and control of the child. County lawyers asked the county to be released from the lawsuit.  The park is also named as party in the suit.

More than a dozen investigators, divers, and support staff responded to the James Island County Park on May 14, 2016 to search for Duffy McLemore.  Attempts by his parents and park officials were unsuccessful.

On radio transmissions obtained by the News 2 I-Team, investigators are asked to check the trash cans and either flip them over or turn the lid upside down as they searched for the boy.

As other parents learned of the missing boy, callers told 911 dispatchers they had concerns about men hanging around the park that day.  One woman reported seeing a man in a white van speeding around the parking lot.  Another woman reported a strange man talking with her child.  A third woman reported seeing a man sitting alone near the splash pad where McLemore was last seen.

The county's bloodhound, Hektor, eventually tracked the boy’s scent after searching more than a half mile of the park using McLemore's t-shirt for a scent.

“Sounds like he will be over where he was last seen,” one the investigators says over the radio to other search parties.

According to newly released police reports, divers found the little boy under the floating dock in seven feet of pond water.  He was found roughly two hours after the massive search began.

Divers emerged from the pond covered in algae

“Fire department stand-by. We have divers that need to be hosed off,” one of the investigators calls over the radio.

The family's attorney, John Harrell, called the pond an attractive nuisance in the wrongful death lawsuit he filed last month.

The family says the green algae that covered the pond tricked the little boy into stepping off the dock.  They believe he thought he was stepping onto grass instead of into water.

The family's attorney, John Harrell, called the pond an "attractive nuisance" in the wrongful death lawsuit he filed last month.

“It’s a condition on real property the child perceives as safe when it's not safe,” Harrell explained.

Since his death last May, the water looks much different.  The green algae topper is gone.

The park hasn't released maintenance logs, though the I-Team requested them.

A spokesman for DHEC told the I-Team the park isn't required to submit a maintenance plan to the Department of Health like new ponds.  The ponds at the park are so old, they don't have to meet current state standards.

The attorney for the family says they have until Friday to amend the lawsuit.

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