Lawyer for parents of teen who drowned claims video surveillance shows teacher on cell phone: report

A lawyer for the parents of a teenager who drowned during a high school swim class earlier this year said in a lawsuit that surveillance video appears to show the teacher looking at his cell phone while the teen drowned.

Benjamin Curry, 15, drowned on May 8 at the San Ramon Valley High School swim class, an autopsy report said. Aaron Becker, the physical education teacher, was apparently having the students tread water, The East Bay Times reported in October.

“I’ve learned from reviewing the video and having it enhanced that it appears that the instructor was looking at his cell phone while standing on a diving board when he should’ve been supervising the children,” Andy Schwartz, the family’s attorney, said, according to the Bay Area News Group. “If he was on his phone he probably was distracted. It’s one of those unanswered questions that the Currys would like to have answered.

Karen and Thomas Curry sued the San Ramon Valley Unified School District and Becker, alleging negligence and willful misconduct over the drowning, the paper reported.

The 57 students in the P.E. class were told to tread water for three minutes, but Becker added another 30-seconds because one of the students touched a lane rope, San Francisco’s KGO-TV reported, citing police reports. Some claim that suggests Becker was paying attention.

But the surveillance footage suggests it was closer to four minutes, Schwartz said.

“You got to remember– this wasn’t the swim team or a water polo team. This was a PE class,” Schwartz told KGO-TV.

The lawsuit alleged that Becker had minimal water safety training and his lifeguard certification lapsed about two months before Curry’s drowning, San Francisco’s KRON-TV reported.

The district “sincerely apologizes to the Curry family and all community members,” addressed rumors and announced policy changes in a statement released by Superintendent Rick Schmitt in November, the Bay Area News Group reported then.

The district also told KRON-TV that if the pool is being used at school, lifeguards will now be present.

Attorney William Gagen, who said he has been advising Becker about the case, said the teacher will not make any comments due to the pending lawsuit, according to reports.

“This is not because he doesn’t care. He is traumatized by what happened to Ben Curry,” Gagen said. “I have advised him not to make statements. He and his family feel terrible about Ben’s death and I convey this to you on his behalf.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.