Dream Center settles suit over drowning at Castlewood

St. Louis County — The St. Louis Dream Center, an arm of the Joyce Meyer Ministries, settled a wrongful death suit Friday with the parents of DeAndre Sherman, one of five children who drowned in 2006 at Castlewood State Park.

The settlement ends litigation with the families of the victims against Joyce Meyer Ministries, the Dream Center and two other entities connected to the Fenton-based televangelist.

Still pending is a cross claim by the Dream Center against the Missouri Department of Natural Resources.

Attorneys for the Dream Center handed out checks in the courtroom of St. Louis County Circuit Judge Mark D. Seigel to Youree Hall and Angela M. Washington, the parents. In turn, they signed agreements to drop all claims.

The dollar amounts of the settlement were confidential, both sides and the judge said. Hall had sued in the county; Washington in the city. The cases were consolidated before Judge Seigel.

Margaret Fowler, an attorney for the defendants, said there are no other suits pending against the church over the drownings.

DeAndre Sherman, 16; Damon Johnson, 17; Ryan Mason, 14; Dana Johnson, 13; and Bryant Barnes, 10; drowned on July 9, 2006, in the Meramec River during an outing for 50 children.

All but DeAndre were the children of Edris Moore of St. Louis. She said after their deaths that she did not blame the Dream Center for the catastrophe. She did not sue.

Bryant’s father got a settlement for an undisclosed amount in May in the court of Judge Maura McShane. That had been the only other case pending against the Dream Center, Fowler said.

The suits had alleged — and the Dream Center had denied — that the church group failed to provide adequate adult supervision for the large number of children.

The suits also alleged that the Dream Center, at 4324 Margaretta Avenue in St. Louis, failed to get parental permission for the trip to the Meramec, failed to provide flotation devices and failed to determine which children could swim or were good swimmers.

After the deaths, Missouri State Water Patrol officials said that particular part of the Meramec River — known locally as the “old boat ramp” or the “river access area,” was not particularly dangerous for swimmers.

In the cross-claim that seeks to hold the state liable, Dream Center attorneys allege that the “old boat ramp” presents swimmers with dangerous conditions including drop-offs on the river bottom, loose gravel, silt, mud and shifting currents.

The claim lists six prior incidents, dating to 1990, that resulted in five other drownings and two near-deaths.

The state has never restricted, prevented or discouraged park visitors from swimming or wading at the “old boat ramp,” nor has it posted warnings of dangerous conditions on summer weekends when 100 to 200 people are in the water there, the claim says. It asks that Missouri be ordered to fully or partially indemnify the Dream Center.

The state has rejected the claim and denied the allegations.

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Religion News Blog posted this on Sunday January 6, 2008.
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