Parents Demand Action Following Son’s Drowning in Summer Floods

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Written By: Rissa Shaw, KCENTV

Dec. 10, 2015

NOLANVILLE — The family of an 11-year-old Nolanville boy who drowned in June, is demanding the city make changes to the site where he died.

During a press conference at the Bell County Courthouse Thursday, the parents of Matthew Natal announced they were suing developers Robert E. Mitchell, Mitchell & Associates Inc., Jubilee Homes, Inc., and Killeen Majestic Homes, Inc., claiming they neglected proper public safety measures regarding drainage issues and a detention pond at Nolan Ridge, the neighborhood where they live.

The words “in went a boy, out came an angel” are written on the cement drain where Natal died.

“My son would have been able to swim out of that if it was properly secured,” said Matthew’s mother Rebecca Natal.

On June 17th, Natal and several friends were playing in flood waters at 10th street and Avenue H when he was sucked into a drainage culvert where he was trapped underwater for 20 minutes. Video of the rescue shows took more than a dozen first responders to pull him out of the detention pond…but it was too late.

“I jumped in the water and I felt that force, which was immense,” said Melvin Natal, Matthew’s father.

Six months later, the only evidence of the drowning is a family-made memorial on the grass near the drain.

“My husband and I watched the same area fill up again with rain water, we feared that another life could be lost,” said Rebecca Natal.

“Nothing has been done to date to remedy the risk that existed before Matthew’s death and still exists today,” said Josh Davis, the Natal’s Houston-based attorney.

The Natals are asking for changes in the area including signage, fencing, and covers for the drains to warn of the potential dangers posed by the detention pond, dangers even adults who were nearby the day of Matthew’s death, allegedly couldn’t see.

“From the surface level there was nothing to alert anyone,” said Davis.

“They’re children and they’re gonna be attracted to water, and they’re children it’s not their fault,” said Melvin Natal.

The family feels fault lies with the developers, and the city of Nolanville.

“Certainly we have to do things that are not negligent or grossly negligent when it comes to building homes and building tracks that do not first account for water runoff and water drainage to ensure our safety,” said Davis.

The City of Nolanville released this statement Thursday in response to the allegations:

In a tragic accident on June 17th of this year, young Matthew Natal drowned after he went swimming in a detention pond in the City of Nolanville. He had been playing near the pond with some friends before entering the pond, which at the time was filled to capacity as a result of the heavy rains that caused historic flooding and major property damage throughout central Texas. City officials have expressed their condolences and share the family’s grief in their loss.

City Manager Kara Escajeda has agreed that major storm events are dangerous and everyone should exercise caution when around substantial amounts of water. The City is committed to public safety generally, and shares the Natal family’s particular concerns relating to the area along the detention pond’s perimeter.

It should be noted that the City did not design nor build the detention pond, which was dedicated to the City for public purposes by the subdivision’s developer, and which the City has since maintained. The City Engineer has explained that the detention pond meets the standards and criteria for such facilities, that it has been properly maintained, and performs the purposes for which it was designed. The City is not aware of any defects in the detention pond’s design or maintenance that need to be corrected, but it is willing to explore measures to diminish the reoccurrence of tragedies similar to Matthew’s.

This morning the City hosted a meeting at City Hall with Melvin and Rebecca Natal, Matthew’s parents, and their attorney Josh Davis. The meeting has come after the Natals sued several parties for their alleged negligence, including the engineering firm that designed the detention pond and the developer that contracted and oversaw its construction. The City is not a defendant in that lawsuit.

Before filing the lawsuit the City provided Mr. Davis with documents he had requested under the Texas Public Information Act, despite the fact that the Attorney General had issued a ruling to the effect that those documents were not legally required to be released because the attorney had threatened to sue Nolanville. At the meeting this morning Mr. Davis was grateful for the receipt of those documents, which he indicated proved very useful to the Natals’ case. He also lauded the City’s first responders in their valiant efforts to save Matthew.

In this morning’s meeting the Natals urged Ms. Escajeda specifically to have the City erect a fence along the boundaries of the detention pond, install grates or similar devices, as well as caution signs, all in an effort to help in the prevention of similar tragedies in the future. City Manager Escajeda explained that Nolanville officials are willing to maintain a dialogue with the Natal family, are open to reviewing their suggested measures, and will evaluate them, as well as other options and measures, with a view to determining their effectiveness in achieving the intended purpose of diminishing the likelihood of similar accidents occurring in the future, and their viability.

-Ignacio Pérez
Assistant City Attorney
City of Nolanville, Texas

The Natals and their attorney met with the City and its attorney Thursday morning, which would have been Matthew’s 12th birthday. Both sides said the meeting was cordial and productive. Davis said if they don’t see action by the city within the next 30 days, they are going to pursue legal action which they’d been avoiding up to this point because they’d rather have any funds used in a legal battle, be used to make changes at the detention pond instead.

“Something has to happen,” said Rebecca Natal.

The Natals said the pond had flooded several other times this year, and they’ve gone out each time to warn people not to go near it.

Matthew was the only son of Melvin and Rebecca who also have a 15-year-old daughter named Felicity.

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