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Family Awarded $2M In Daughter's Drowning At Naval Housing

E-mails Show Contractors, Navy Knew About Problem

POSTED: 5:41 pm HST August 23, 2005

5-year-old girl who drowned in a naval housing

HONOLULU — The family of a 5-year-old girl who drowned in a naval housing complex last year has been awarded a $2 million settlement.

E-mails from the Navy and the contractor that built the complex show they knew about the drainage problems there long before the girl drowned.

Charlotte Schaefers, known as “Sharkey,” was just as comfortable in a ballet tutu as she was in a soccer uniform. In February of last year, she drowned in a flooded detention pond as she rescued another child near her home in the Pearl City Peninsula Housing Complex.

An e-mail from Hunt Construction Co., which built the complex, shows the company knew the drain there was 89 percent clogged but didn’t make repairs because the cost to repair it could exceed the liability.

“I can forgive these contractors and the Navy. This is on their conscience and they have to learn to live with themselves for this loss. But, on the same token, I think it’s my responsibility to get the word out that this kind of thinking must not and will not be tolerated,” said the victim’s mother, Allison Schaefers.

Allison Schaefers is a reporter at the Honolulu Star Bulletin. Her husband, Scott, is a Navy chief petty officer.

Another e-mail shows a Navy housing official joked about the flooding problem nearly a year before Charlotte’s death, saying that residents could “go water skiing” and “teach scuba lessons” there. But, the last line of the e-mail was more serious: “My recommendation is that the contractor should put up some type of barrier to this hazard.”

“Even though he called them on this and said ‘Let’s do the fencing,’ he didn’t follow up. He let Hunt get away with not doing it,” the Schaefers’ attorney Rick Fried said.

Allison Schaefers wants to convince state lawmakers to require fences and danger signs around drainage ponds.

“It’s a devastating loss to lose a child and I don’t want to see anybody else ever go through this again,” she said.

“The settlement is nothing compared to what I lose in my daughter. I’d much rather have her back,” Scott Schaefers said.

The Navy, the contactor, architects and an engineering firm are paying $2 million for the largest known settlement in the death of a child in Hawaii.