An attorney for the family of 9-year-old Tommy Botell said the U.S. Magistrate's recent ruling on a lawsuit against Lassen Volcanic National Park sets a precedent for future cases.
A U.S. Magistrate has concluded that officials at the Lassen Volcanic National Park purposely destroyed part of the retaining wall that caused the death of Botell and injured his sister.
The judge said the wall was torn down "for no apparent purpose other than to render the scene degraded in terms of any complete investigation." He said the park didn't close the trail for investigative purposes and no investigation of the accident site was made until it was changed. He goes on to say the park service destroyed evidence and that they should be found negligent.
The ruling is part of a multi-million dollar lawsuit Tommy's family filed against the park service.
The family, along with a team of attorneys out of Sacramento, have been working on the case for more than three years.
Catia Saraiva, one of the attorneys, told us this is a one of a kind case. It's the first time, they know of, that a federal magistrate is recommending sanctions against the United States for spoiling evidence.
She said they hope this recommendation will send a clear message to everyone that you cannot destroy evidence and then get away with it.
Saraiva said the Botell's and the legal team hope it will finally lead to justice.
"They're just absolutely thrilled and happy with the ruling; that finally someone is listening to their side of the story and that the truth is coming forth. We're definitely going in the right direction and we're hopeful that the United States will step up and do the right thing an accept responsibility," Saraiva said.
The government is claiming immunity under a 1948 law that bars lawsuits against federal workers acting within their lawful discretion. The magistrate said there's not enough evidence to determine whether evidence was destroyed related to that defense, though he called it "highly suspicious."
There will be an evidentiary hearing held to sort that out. Federal officials can object to the findings within 14 days.
Trial is set for September in federal court in Sacramento.
We called Lassen Volcanic National Park to get their reaction. An official told me it is against their policy to comment on pending litigation.