Bay City News—The family of a man who died in the water off an Alameda beach last year while police and firefighters stood by has filed a lawsuit against the city and against Alameda County.
The wrongful death lawsuit filed Friday in Alameda County Superior Court by the brother and sister of Raymond Zack alleges that the city and county were negligent and failed to rescue him despite ample time and opportunity to do so.
City officials have said that firefighters could not enter the water because their certification in water rescue had been allowed to lapse since 2009 and their department rescue boat had been eliminated in 2008. Both programs have since been reinstated.
Zack, 53, waded 150 yards into the water at Robert W. Crown Memorial State Beach on May 30 shortly after 11 a.m., reportedly in an attempt to kill himself.
A friend of his called 911 around 11:30 a.m., according to the complaint filed Friday. Police and firefighters arrived on the scene within minutes, but instead of entering the water they called for assistance from other agencies and waited on shore, according to the complaint.
In the following minutes a series of errors were made, including a failure by county dispatchers to contact the proper agencies and a failure by officials to determine whether a Coast Guard boat called to the scene could enter the beach's shallow waters, the complaint alleges.
Zack remained in cold water up to his neck, until he became submerged in water around 12:05 p.m. and was seen to be floating. Firefighters and police still remained on shore, and it was not until a civilian entered the water at 12:27 p.m. that Zack was retrieved, according to the complaint. He was declared dead at Alameda Hospital just before 1 p.m., according to the complaint.
An independent investigation released in September cited insufficient training, poor communication and a lack of water rescue resources that forced the city to rely on aid from other agencies as factors in the death.
The city has instituted changes since the report, including the purchase of two shallow-water rescue boats and the reinstitution of water rescue training. However, some residents remain unsatisfied that no one in the fire or police departments lost their jobs in the aftermath of the death.
A group of residents still pushing for greater accountability plan to mark the first anniversary of Zack's death with a reenactment at Crown Beach Saturday.
At least four people will wade out into the water to the place where Zack stood to demonstrate the ease with which he could have been rescued, said Alameda resident David Howard.
Howard and others allege that the fire department had the money for the rescue swimmer certification program in their budget but did not use it for reasons that are not clear.
"Isn't this the sort of thing that somebody should lose their job over?" Howard asked.
City and county officials could not be reached for comment on Friday.
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