Mother of autistic teen who died in El Modena High School golf cart crash files suit against Orange Unified School District

by in News

The mother of a special-needs teen who died when in a golf cart crash at El Modena High School in September has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the Orange Unified School District claiming negligence in the incident and by the staff who were with the boy.

The suit, filed on Nov. 5 in Orange County Superior Court, says Emmanuel “Manny” Perez suffered chest and abdominal trauma after he sat in a campus golf cart and crashed into a railing. The Orange family and their attorney Robert Glassman argue the 15-year-old and the vehicle were unsupervised. The suit follows a claim filed just days after the incident.

On Monday morning, Sept. 9, Perez was in the golf cart when it accelerated forward and eventually crashed. He was taken to a hospital where he died later that evening.

A wrongful death lawsuit filed by the mother of Emmanuel “Manny” Perez included a photograph of the golf cart the boy was riding in when it crashed into a rail on Sept. 9, 2019. The autistic 15-year-old old died from his injuries later that night. (Orange County Superior Court)

“This senseless tragedy resulted from the district’s negligence in not only failing to properly supervise and control Manny but also failing to secure and disable the golf cart before Manny—who suffers from severe autism and behavior issues—was able to get inside and endanger himself and others,” the lawsuit states.

The district has repeatedly said Perez was not left unattended.

In a statement responding to this week’s legal action, the district reiterated those claims, adding that surveillance footage from the area showed two aides with Perez. That footage has not been released to the public.

“When he saw the golf cart, he bolted away from the aides and jumped into the parked golf cart,” according to the statement. “He was never more than afew feet away from his aides.”

They chose to verbally try to de-escalate the situation, the district said, adding that: “His multiple disabilities made this the preferred strategy for dealing with his behavior. It would have been ill-advised to attempt to physically remove Manny from the golf cart.”

As the teen depressed the accelerator, the aides tried to stop the cart from moving forward by holding on to and blocking it.

The family is seeking unspecified damages.

No criminal charges have been filed in the incident.

The boy’s death caused turbulence at the Orange campus in the days following the crash. About three days later, dozens of students held a walkout and rally on campus contending the incident was avoidable and questioning the qualifications of the aides who were assigned to supervise Perez.

Corona, Perez’s mother, has said the death was preventable.

“I want schools caring for students with autism, or any student with special needs, to implement safety guidelines and provide training for school staff so that incidents like Manny’s don’t happen again,” she said in a statement released by her attorney’s office. “No parent should suffer this type of loss or the pain that I feel. I want justice for Manny.”