By Gina Martinez
The city has agreed to pay the family of Avonte Oquendo, the 14 year-old autistic boy whose body was found along the College Point shoreline, $2.7 million in a settlement, according to the Law Department.
Avonte’s mother, Vanessa Fontaine, sued the Department of Education in a $25 million wrongful death suit for negligence in 2014. Fontaine claimed NYPD school safety officials at Riverview High School in Long Island City did not adequately supervise or protect her special needs child. Since Avonte was autistic, he had a propensity to run away and lacked good communication skills, according to the suit. In the suit Fontaine also claimed that safety officials did not act quickly enough and failed to immediately notify the Police Department after Avonte left the school’s premises.
When Avonte disappeared from the school in October 2013, video surveillance showed him running out the front door. Avonte’s whereabouts were unknown until January 2014, when officials discovered pieces of his body washed up onto the College Point shoreline. His family and volunteers had searched for him for months before his body was found.
“The loss of a child is a tragedy no family should endure, and hopefully the resolution of this legal matter will bring some measure of solace to Avonte’s family” The Law Department said in a statement about the settlement. “The DOE has taken a number of steps and is dedicated to taking every measure possible to prevent something like this from occurring again.”
David Perecman, Fontaine’s lawyer, said the settlement does not take away the pain of Avonte’s death.
“I hope that the state of New York will change the law regarding the death of children and allow for fair recoveries.” he said. “Vanessa hopes that the Department of Education takes action to keep all children safe. No amount of money is enough to pay for the loss of a child.”
Last month the U.S. Senate passed a bipartisan bill named in part for Avonte, called Kevin and Avonte’s Law. The law protects young kids with autism and other mental disabilities by placing a tracking device on the children that alerts teachers or guardians when they wander off. The bill would provide $10 million in funds for training programs to deal with teens with autism and other mental disabilities to prevent them from disappearing.
Reach Gina Martinez by e-mail at gmart