Father of drowned children files suit

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The father of two toddlers who drowned in a Warren County wastewater pond in 2005 contends in a civil lawsuit that the city of Warrenton and its former sewage-treatment contractor are responsible for the deaths.

Nicole Payne, 2, and Jonah Payne, 3, were found dead in a Warrenton pond in April 2005.  File/Staff
File/Staff
Nicole Payne, 2, and Jonah Payne, 3, were found dead in a Warrenton pond in April 2005.

The complaint filed in Fulton County by Dennis Payne alleges that workers ignored holes in a safety fence around the city-owned pond where the bodies of Jonah Payne, 3, and his 2-year-old sister, Nicole, were found in April 2005.

Mr. Payne, who is seeking a jury trial, did not specify damages in the 21-page complaint, but a legal notice sent to city officials before the filing of the lawsuit mentioned $10 million per child.

The children's mother, Lottie Payne - who is not mentioned in the lawsuit - was found criminally responsible for the children's deaths last fall after a weeklong trial in which she was convicted of second-degree cruelty to children. She is serving a five-year prison term.

During her trial, prosecutors characterized her as an unfit mother who repeatedly neglected and did not protect or supervise her children. She was convicted after 58 minutes of deliberation.

Mr. Payne's lawsuit accuses city officials and the city's former contractor, Operations Management International, also known as OMI, of causing the children's deaths.

The safety fence surrounding the pond had holes in it, and the entrance gate was improperly locked, the complaint alleges.

The city also was warned by state environmental regulators that the gates were not properly secured and that warning signs were not posted in the area.

The complaint also alleges that - eight days after the children's bodies were recovered - Warrenton officials held a closed-door meeting to discuss their liability and later authorized $20,000 to correct safety deficiencies.

"Defendants' failure to maintain a safe and effective fence; failure to monitor the subject premises, failure to safely secure gates, failure to remove thick algae which created the appearance of solid ground and other breaches of care proximately caused the injury and untimely deaths of Jonah and Nicole Payne," the lawsuit contends.

A lawsuit represents one side of a dispute.

The city and the legal team that represents the city's insurance carrier are preparing a response, said Warrenton City Attorney Samuel Fowler Jr.

Reach Rob Pavey at 868-1222, ext. 119, or rob.pavey@augustachronicle.com.

WHAT'S NEXT:

The city of Warrenton has 30 days to respond to the lawsuit, after which steps and hearings can begin that could lead to a jury trial.

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lsthrzd
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lsthrzd 04/11/07 - 04:25 am
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Twins? One of the children

Twins? One of the children was 3 yrs old and the other 2? Who's proofing the headlines?

HopeSpringsEternal
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HopeSpringsEternal 04/11/07 - 05:37 am
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Although it is tragic that

Although it is tragic that they died, the children were tresspassing. I'm so tired of so many parents screaming and pointing fingers at others when their kids die or get hurt while doing something they shouldn't have been doing in the first place. How about teaching kids that No means No, not to mess with other people's stuff and not to go where you're not supposed to go. Seems to me the mom, who is already in jail, should have been held responsible and that should be the end of it. The dad should also have taught the kids that tresspassing or going onto other people's property is dangerous and bad. If someone is tresspassing, no matter their age, the landowner should not be held accountable for something bad happening while the person was violating the law on their property. I think it is time for more parents to start taking resposnibility when their kids do stupid, dangerous and/or illegal things rather than pointing fingers at others and hoping for some blood money in a lawsuit. Too bad the city and OMI can't file a countersuit for tresspassing and for bad parenting leading to the resulting mess of this tragedy.

pantherluvcik
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pantherluvcik 04/11/07 - 05:59 am
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These kids were 2 and 3, I

These kids were 2 and 3, I take it you don't have kids. At this age I doubt they knew what trespassing was. And the city is responsible for maintaining their property to a certain standard, which they did not. There is a reason people are required to maintain a fence when certain circumstances exist, and they should have maintained their fence properly. The government expects residents to maintain their property a certain way and they should be held to the same standard if not higher. Yes these kids weren't properly cared for, but their mom is paying for that. Now the city needs to take responsibility for their negligence. I'm sure you read that they are trying to clean up now, too little too late.

purmkinhed
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purmkinhed 04/11/07 - 06:30 am
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HopeSpringsEternal, I sure

HopeSpringsEternal, I sure hope your name helps you because thats what you need. HOPE! pantherluvcik. Right On!

gnx
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gnx 04/11/07 - 06:56 am
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Well.. two sides to every

Well.. two sides to every story. Children are innocents. They don't know about the risks. The city does. Did the city take action to preempt disaster? No. The City knew about the problem. They did nothing. This opens the floodgates. Regardless of who says what, each side bears an approximate 50% responsibility here. Either way, I don't think Mr. Payne deserves one red cent from the city for his loss. He's the one who left those children with Lottie in the first place, knowing full well they'd wandered off under her care before.

stillamazed
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stillamazed 04/11/07 - 07:10 am
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I believe the holes in the

I believe the holes in the fence should have been fixed but it is the responsibility of the parents to watch their children and keep them out or danger. this woman was found guilty of neglect, it wasn't the first time they had wondered off while she sat on her behind......I am so sick of lawsuits......that it what is wrong with this country.....every commercial that comes on tv is either promoting lawsuits or drugs......boy what a civilized society we have become....he thinks he can sue and sit on his behind the rest of his life, his wife is the one responsible for those precious childrens death period.......

HopeSpringsEternal
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HopeSpringsEternal 04/11/07 - 07:13 am
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By ages 2 and 3, children

By ages 2 and 3, children have started their moral development process-they know the basic difference between good and bad, yes and no and to some extent, right and wrong (i.e. they understand when they are doing something someone told them not to). This is upheld in many scientific studies and explained at length in the book Life-Span Human Development by C. Sigelman and D. Shaffer. A fence is there for a reason and whether it has holes or not, the parents should have said clearly-Do NOT go over there or there will be very bad consequences (in whatever form of discipline, if any, they were using). Yes, there are standards to be met but there is also responsibility on the part of parents to teach their kids right and wrong and to mind when told not to do something. I hope that parents will start taking more responibility and do a better job of not letting their kids run wild, out of control/doing whatever they want then cry foul when the child gets hurt. My boys, ages 9 and 8 are being raised to understand actions have consequences, to be personally responsible for their own behavior, to make good choices, respect authority and do what they are told-Not easy but it is worth it.

cyoung
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cyoung 04/11/07 - 07:32 am
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panther luvcik hit it right

panther luvcik hit it right on the nose....no other opinions needed!

brownskin30434
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brownskin30434 04/11/07 - 07:38 am
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Amen to HopeSpringsEternal.

Amen to HopeSpringsEternal. Had momma been watching those kids, this trafedy never would have happen. Let Dad look for his big payoff somewhere else. While the safety precautions the city took were inadequate, they are in no way responsible for the fact that the kids were unsupervised. Maybe the city should sue the parents for not having a fence around their yard so that the kids were able to wander off and allowing their kids to trespass on city property. Maybe in addition to imprisoning the Mom she should have to pay a hefty fine for child neglect.

grizzilies
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grizzilies 04/11/07 - 07:55 am
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A 2 and a 3 year old. Are you

A 2 and a 3 year old. Are you going to teach them about sex at that age, how to drive and too blance a check book. There are ohsa guidelines regarding the requirements for the area. The supervisor of the operation knows what is required. He should have had it fix by his/her workers. THE CITY SHOULD PAY. As for the dad/mother thing, were they divorced or seperated? If that had happen to my kid, I would go after the city , the company that did the work, (which by the way, who inspected the work from the city), and yes I would go after the wife.

trueluv4ever
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trueluv4ever 04/11/07 - 07:56 am
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This is outrageous...the kids

This is outrageous...the kids were 2 and 3yrs of age, they shouldn't have been 2ft away from the parents. I understand that they are kids, I have 2 hyperactive kids that my husband and I run after all the time. The city has blame but ultimately mom should have been right next to the kids. I don't think she is doing enough time in the slammer for neglecting 2kids!

ForHim
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ForHim 04/11/07 - 08:35 am
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While it's true that these

While it's true that these children should never have been neglected as they were, and further that Mr. Payne does not deserve to receive money for his part in the neglect (he knew the mother did not take proper care of these children) I have a feeling that he is going to prevail in his suit for negligence by the city. The city does hold some liability for the fence that did not secure the area.

rcs2749
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rcs2749 04/11/07 - 08:37 am
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Yea I bet putting up warning

Yea I bet putting up warning signs would have really helped deter this tragedy since most 2 and 3 yr olds can read.

Chuchi
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Chuchi 04/11/07 - 08:47 am
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Is it possible that the two

Is it possible that the two children were not properly taught right from wrong? If so, that would place the blame squarely upon the shoulders of the parents, not the children. And at the tender ages of 2 and 3, no matter what scientist has written however many books, children often forget the rules and can quickly do things that can put their safety in peril. Even good kids who have been taught right from wrong can slip up and make bad choices. It happens every day. It almost appears as if certain individuals are placing some of the blame on these very young children, which is certainly inappropriate in this case. The kids are not at fault. I have known some very smug parents whose claim to fame was that they were raising their kids "perfectly" only to have their children break rules, make terrible decisions and suffer serious or even deadly consequences for themselves and others. The parents of these kids were the first ones to point the finger elsewhere, because they themselves certainly had done no wrong, of course. So beware --- don't ever think that just because you are raising your kids right means that it can't happen to you, because it can. I know because I've seen it.

NoGoodReason
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NoGoodReason 04/11/07 - 08:55 am
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Legal liability does exist in

Legal liability does exist in the tragic situation unfortunately. I am a mother of 3 girls and have been for over 20 years. During that time as a single working mom I always managed to keep up with them and made sure no harm ever came to them. It was my job as their mother. The dad knowing left those children with his unfit wife, but those kids God rest their souls were not cared for or about by their parents. Now the father has the audacity to sayhe wants $10,000,000.00 dollars for each child’s death for when they were alive they didn’t mean anything thing to either of them. This is a sorry fact of life if have a pool or pond in your yard a child gets in with or without your permission and drowns your ARE Liable. In the eyes of the law it is an attractive nuisance and the law requires you take safe measures to prevent these types of tragedies from happening. The really sad thing is that they WILL profit from being sorry parents. If there is any justice in the world any monies awarded from this law suit should be ordered to be paid out to other unfortunate children and not the parents who contributed to the deaths of their own children.

whatever1
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whatever1 04/11/07 - 08:56 am
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From what I have heard the

From what I have heard the little boy had some problems walking--how did they get to the pond in the first place? For all we know the mother took them to the pond--no one will ever really know what happened. Those children should have been taken out of that home--so the state is also responsible. No one person or government agency was resposible--everyone let these children down and all should bear the guilt--the money will do nothing to bring the children back. If the town is financially responsible then the money should be put into a trust to help prevent this type of thing from happening to any child again.

It will be interesting if this goes to a jury--it would have to be one outside of Warrenton--the feeling in the area is that the parents were to blame plain and simple.

fergie01
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fergie01 04/11/07 - 09:04 am
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the mama had mental problems

the mama had mental problems and the father does too. doesn't take a medical doctor to see that. why were these children left in the home? i have seen dfacs take children away from homes that were alot better off than this one.is it too corse to say that people with mental disabilities should not be allowed to have children? i know some would say that they have rights, but so do innocent children. i know i will get alot of flack for that comment,but it is just the way i feel.

sarah
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sarah 04/11/07 - 09:42 am
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There was a long history of

There was a long history of neglect, abuse and non supervision for the children. They lived short, tragic lives. Their parents engaged in sexual orgies with the children in the same home. The one the night before the children disappeared. I do not feel the parents deserve a dime. They only want a hand-out, which they got from the county they lived in. The county was good enought to help them with medicaid, food stamps etc and now the so-called father of these children wants money for the death's? This does not show love for them, it shows greed. There are many children that live where this pond is and nothing every happened to them. Why? They were properly supervised thats why. Hold parents responsible for thier actions!

kitkat
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kitkat 04/11/07 - 09:55 am
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What a sad thing that the

What a sad thing that the world has come to...these children had been reported and investigated several times in the past by dfcs...why they chose to leave children in the care or environment not suitable, safe or at the very least in question, at the cry of, what...parental rights???? What about children rights??? The system usually doesn't step in until a tragedy occurs in most cases. I am a single mom of 3, and as much as the city had negligence, I, as the parent, am ultimately responsible for the well being and safety of my children. 100% so when they are of tender years. Lack of supervision on my part, DOES NOT justify a lawsuit on another's part if my negligence causes tragedy. What's next?...suing the school board and/or bus driver for the recent tragedy in Columbia County???? when the child was permitted by parents to run along side the bus each and every day, dispite pleadings from the bus driver to stop this unsafe behavior?? Sadly, the children are the true victims here, have always been, only now does every one see and acknowledge that...Children should be thought of and protected before tragedy strikes, and parents should be held accountable....

gailkaitschuck
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gailkaitschuck 04/11/07 - 10:04 am
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Anyone remember the details

Anyone remember the details that came out during moms trial?

Mom and dad hooking up with another couple via the Internet the day before the drowning, having the couple come over for sex? Mom too tired after the night of sex with strangers to watch the children the next day? Dad goes off the work, mom is still in bed, the children get out of the unlocked fence (again) and wander down to the pond.

Dad gives new definition to the word "chutzpah".

farmer
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farmer 04/11/07 - 10:09 am
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It is a terrible that the

It is a terrible that the lives of two young beautiful children has come to an end, but to blame someone other than yourself is even worse.Why not load a 357magnum pistol and give it to them to play with and when they shoot themselves sue the manufactor of the gun,seems about the same to me.

THESOUTHLOST
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THESOUTHLOST 04/11/07 - 10:37 am
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This idiot should be sued if

This idiot should be sued if not arrested. He knew that his locks were faulty, his children got out earlier that same day, yet he blames someone else.Hell they talk about warning signs were not posted. I know the kids could not read and listening to the Father, I doubt he could either.

CINDYLOUWHO
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CINDYLOUWHO 04/11/07 - 10:39 am
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parents are responsible and

parents are responsible and that is the bottom line!

What a joke
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What a joke 04/11/07 - 11:31 am
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Property owners need to

Property owners need to maintain their property that has ponds, ababdoned buildings, holes, etc., but the first responsibility for kids lies with the parents. One thing has never sounded right to me from the start; How did they get to the pond in a few minutes? True, two toddlers can cover alot of ground in a few minutes, if they have a direction they want to go in. Who has led them to the pond on enough occasions so that they knew the way so well that they went straight to it? Or led them that very day? Parents? Older children of the neighborhood? Pedophile? Or was it longer than a few minutes without supervision? These possible scenarios are all ultimately the fault of the parents.

crackertroy
540
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crackertroy 04/11/07 - 12:18 pm
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If Payne gets 10 million a
Unpublished

If Payne gets 10 million a child, the message is clear: If you want to get rich and you're cold-hearted enough, just have a couple of kids and take them out to Warrenton (or any other unkemp public facility) to play. Anyone who can come up with a price to place on their own children, whatever the price is, has serious issues.

mnwilliams111
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mnwilliams111 04/11/07 - 12:22 pm
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I can't believe that this man

I can't believe that this man is suing the city....he has no kids to take care of now and his wife is being cared for on our dime.....Maybe he will spend the money to join some on-line swinger sites. Or better yet, get a vasectomy.

Puppydog1
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Puppydog1 04/11/07 - 12:40 pm
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This is just another case of

This is just another case of people not taking responsibility for their actions. Who in the hell lets their 2 and 3 year old children wander around without supervision?! It's a shame these children were being "cared" for by their trailer trash mother and a dead beat father who can only think of dollar signs at the misfortune their children have met at their parents lack of responsibility!

mandylane
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mandylane 04/11/07 - 01:24 pm
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The only blame lies with the

The only blame lies with the caregiver, which is the mother. If she had kept her children within her sights at all times, then the fence in question wouldn't even exist. If some child predator had grabbed them after they wandered off, would the father be suing that person? If they had gotten hurt by a wild animal, or run over, would he sue them? The county is not to blame-they didn't put those children in harm's way. Your number one priority as a parent is the safety of your children. The blame lies with the person who forgot that.

TALYLOR
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TALYLOR 04/11/07 - 01:42 pm
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I have a young child and

I have a young child and every child and children at 2 and 3 years old do not retain things for very long. You HopeSpringsEternal are not as bright and all knowing as you would like to believe you are. Bad things happen to children all the time. I watch my child like a hawk and so do a lot of other parents but that does not mean anyone is exempt from tragedy. Yes, mom was irresponsible, however, she did not damage that fence and she did not kill those children. Perhaps you have forgotten the time line in the phone calls and when the children disappeared. She went to the bathroom and when she came out the children had gone out the gate. Before you start judging people perhaps you should re-evaluate yourself as a parent. Oh let me guess, when your children were toddlers they never did anything wrong because yours were born with a natural understanding of right and wrong. It takes a while to teach children. They do not learn overnight. Lottie is slow perhaps her children inherited the same mental slowness.

mandylane
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mandylane 04/11/07 - 03:45 pm
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TAYLOR-I agree that children

TAYLOR-I agree that children do not retain things for very long, but she the mom killed those kids when she went to the bathroom when her children were outside. At least bring them in, lock the door while you are using the bathroom. The county is not responsible for watching those children, and even if the fence had been repaired, whose to say that they wouldn't have gotten picked up, as I mentioned before. No, children do not learn overnight, and that is why you have to be with them at all times. And I know this from experience. I have a seven year old and a seven month old. Nobody else is responsible for your children except for the parents and the people who are caring for them.

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