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TWO VERSIONS OF TRAGEDY TRIAL OPENS IN PALMDALE STUDENT'S DEATH.

Byline: Karen Maeshiro Staff Writer

VAN NUYS - The Palmdale School District should be held liable in the death of a 13-year-old Juniper Intermediate School pupil killed in a fistfight because school officials failed to properly supervise students, his mother's attorney said.

In opening statements in a wrongful-death lawsuit against the school district, attorney Melanie Lomax said Wednesday that a teacher failed to prevent a dispute between Stephan Corson and a classmate that started in her classroom and escalated into a fistfight after dismissal.

``The evidence will show this boy was being killed five feet outside the classroom door while the teacher sat in class securing the property of the school district,'' Lomax said.

Rather than going outside with pupils at dismissal time, she stayed inside the classroom to turn off computers and write a note to the class's regular teacher.

``She never came out during the time when at least 10 kids and the two students were fighting, screaming, yelling and using profanity,'' Lomax told the Van Nuys Superior Court jury of 10 men and two women.

Palmdale School District attorney Martin Carpenter said the school staff provided ``reasonable'' supervision of the 800 youngsters leaving classrooms at the end of the day.

The district is not to blame for Stephan's death, Carpenter said.

``Fifteen to 17 adult supervisors were dispersed around the campus at various locations in an effort to provide reasonable supervision,'' Carpenter said. ``The evidence will demonstrate you can't cover every inch and you can't watch every single student at all times.''

Mary Corson, a medical transcriber for Kaiser Permanente, is suing the school district for wrongful death and negligence in the November 1999 death. The trial is expected to take more than two weeks.

Stephan Corson died from damage to his spinal cord caused either by a punch thrown by his 14-year-old classmate or from hitting the ground with his chin, coroner's officials said. Prosecutors declined to prosecute the other boy, saying he acted in self-defense after Stephan threw the first punch following an argument in class.

Lomax says there are conflicting accounts about who started the fight.

Mary Corson was the first witness to testify, telling the jury her son was a kind, gentle boy who had started class at Juniper less than a month before he was killed. She said she moved to Palmdale from the San Fernando Valley to afford a house, after promising her son he could have a house with a back yard and a dog.

He read Bible verses to her at night, she took him to his baseball games and they went to amusement parks, shopping, the beach and church together, she testified.

``Stephan was my whole life,'' Mary Corson said.

The plaintiffs and the defense differed over how long the fight lasted and what school workers did when they saw it.

Lomax said the fistfight lasted six or seven minutes, and that an instructional aide who heard the fighting yelled at the boys to stop but failed to restrain them. Carpenter said it was over in seconds, and that the aide stepped between the boys but couldn't prevent two last punches between Stephan and the other boy.

The dispute started in class during an argument ``over kid stuff,'' Lomax said, ``over nothing more important than spitballs and whose obligation it was to pick it up.''

After the fight started on a walkway outside the classroom door, an instructional aide walking to her car noticed it and told the boys to stop or she would call security. Instead of restraining the boys, the aide told them repeatedly to stop fighting, Lomax said.

``The killing of Stephan Corson took place on the last blow of the fight,'' Lomax said. ``He was struck so hard his eyes rolled back in his head, he had difficulty breathing and he dropped to the ground like a rock.

``Had the supervision been there, the students would have ended their altercation or broken up much earlier so that my client's son would have been alive today,'' Lomax said.

Lomax said the teacher, a regular Juniper teacher who was filling in for a different teacher that class period, was not in control of her pupils during class. Pupils were throwing pencils, eating food and arguing, she said.

The boy who later fought with Stephan was disruptive, but wasn't sent to the ``timeout'' classroom as other students were, she said.

Carpenter maintained that the teacher was in control of her class. The students were supposed to watch a video in class while the regular teacher was gone, but it was not available, so the teacher filling in told them they could read, work on projects, draw or otherwise be quiet.

``She did administer discipline to kids if she saw something was wrong,'' Carpenter said. ``She was not sitting back and letting the kids run wild.''

Carpenter said the boys had exchanged words in class - after the other boy had been ordered to pick up spitballs - but that it was not a loud argument and the teacher was not aware of it.

The teacher had been inside the classroom after dismissal for a minute, when she opened the door and saw Stephan on the concrete walkway, with the aide next to him, the attorney said.

Carpenter said Stephan punched the other boy outside the classroom after the teacher closed the door following dismissal. As the boys exchanged punches, he said, the aide heard the fight, rushed over, yelling for them to stop, and stepped between them.

``For a moment, for an instant, there is a lull,'' Carpenter said. ``She sees (the other boy) more or less drop his hands as though he is finished.''

Then the aide said she felt a push from her side and Stephan going by her, Carpenter said. He punched the other boy, who immediately hit back and Stephan fell to the pavement, Carpenter said.

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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Aug 1, 2002
Words:986
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