Park City police, schools sued by father of teen who died of overdose

Park City High School.
Park Record file photo

The father of a Park City teen who died in 2016 from an opioid overdose has filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court against the Park City Police Department, the Park City School District and individuals within those entities, claiming the defendants were aware the drug had been acquired but concealed the information.

Robert Ainsworth filed the lawsuit on behalf of himself, the estate of the late Ryan Ainsworth and another child, identified in court documents as 15-year-old JA. The individuals named as defendants are Darwin Little, who is a Police Department lieutenant, Treasure Mountain Junior High school counselor Nicholai Jensen and the principal of the school, Emily Sutherland.

The opioid is known as U-47700 and is often referred to as “Pink” or “Pinky.” Ryan Ainsworth was one of two 13-year-old students at the junior high who died within days of each other from overdoses of U-47700. Grant Seaver was the other teen. They were best friends. The two deaths put the community on edge as the authorities attempted to determine whether there was wider danger to students and others.

The lawsuit claims on Aug. 30, 2016, 12 days prior to the first death, the Summit County Sheriff’s Office stopped five youths at an electronics store, finding a bottle with a colorless liquid that was reported at the time as Benadryl. The Sheriff’s Office released the youths to their parents, and it was later found that the bottle contained the opioid, the filing says.

Based on a separate overdose of a minor, the Police Department by Sept. 3, 2016 realized the substance in the bottle found on Aug. 30 was U-47700 rather than Benadryl, the lawsuit says.

“The PD also knew it was extremely toxic and presented a severe risk and personal health hazard for any teen who had possession of it,” the filing says, indicating the Police Department and the School District were aware of “the extremely dangerous and potentially deadly nature of U-47700” by Sept. 3 or as late as Sept. 6.

The lawsuit says the Police Department and the School District “withheld from Robert important details of his (child’s) involvement with U-47700.” Since the information was not disclosed, Ainsworth “was prevented from providing critical and protective care to his children … at a time when they were in imminent danger,” according to the lawsuit.

The Police Department and the School District “had a duty to disclose” the information to Ainsworth and other parents at the high school and the junior high, the lawsuit claims.

“Neither the PD nor the PCSD made appropriate efforts to provide timely safety information to Robert or other parents of the children they knew to be involved with this deadly substance,” the filing says.

The lawsuit provides a timeline involving the separate overdose, on Sept. 3, text messages between parents as they attempted to learn what occurred and a search of the home by Ainsworth that only found prescription medicines.

Seaver died on Sept. 11. The next day, the lawsuit says, Ainsworth drove his children to school. The police and figures from the school met Ryan Ainsworth as they entered the buildings, seizing computers and calling the father to outline concern for Ryan Ainsworth’s safety so shortly after Seaver’s death.

The father met with school officials with the son present most of the meeting, the lawsuit says, claiming at the time of the meeting the school officials “were aware of the high probability that (Ryan Ainsworth) had U-47700 in his possession, that the substance had been used on school grounds, that (Ryan Ainsworth) may have believed the substance was safe, and that (Ryan Ainsworth) was in high danger of overdose and/or death from the substance.”

The officials “knew at the September 12, 2016 meeting that (Ryan Ainsworth) was in grave danger because of recent contact with U-47700. Defendants concealed these facts from Robert and misdirected him into thinking that their only concern was that (Ryan Ainsworth) might attempt suicide,” the lawsuit says.

The father took Ryan Ainsworth to the Park City Medical Center on Sept. 12 for evaluation and he was released without the hospital finding a trace of the substance, it says.

The filing says the Police Department by Sept. 12 was aware that several students at the junior high and Park City High School possessed U-47700 and by the middle of that day, the authorities “knew that U-47700 was so new on the drug scene that many medical personnel and most parents would not be aware of its dangers and potency.”

Later that day, at approximately 5:30 p.m., the School District sent an email referred to as a “Community Drug Alert,” but the email “did not stand out as time critical to Robert, nor was it immediately obvious that it had any different priority in comparison to the multitude of routine emails from the school district,” the case says, indicating Ainsworth did not read the message “until long after the death” of his son.

At 7 a.m. the next morning, Sept. 13, Ainsworth discovered his son on a sofa and called 911. The son had died.

The Police Department searched the house at the insistence of Ainsworth, and obtained a vial containing a clear liquid that was determined to be U-47700, the lawsuit says.

“Though the (Police Department’s) Alert warned that U-47700 was potentially lethal to the touch and that children falsely believed it to be safe, police made no effort to specifically inform … any of the other children and adults present at the Ainsworth household, of their imminent risk of death from inadvertent residual contact with this toxic substance,” it says.

The Police Department persistently concealed information about a sibling’s possible contact with U-47700, the case claims.

“The (Police Department) should have instructed local hospitals about the risk of U-47700 but failed to do so. Had the (Police Department) done so, then it is likely that (Ryan Ainsworth’s) death could have been prevented by hospital personnel diagnosing (Ryan Ainsworth’s) use of Pink when Robert took him to the ER on September 12, 2016,” the lawsuit says.

The filing indicates damages include the loss of earnings of, at least, between $2 million and $3 million “over the lifetime of a young man whose parents were both highly successful and highly educated.”

City Hall says little

City Hall released a prepared statement by Mayor Andy Beerman regarding the lawsuit. It does not address the claims. The statement:

“While Park City has no comment on a lawsuit which has not been served on the City, as Mayor I give my heartfelt condolences to the families and friends of these children, and my support to the men and women of the Park City Police Department who are tasked with the heavy burden as first responders to these tragedies. In this matter we’ve had no reason but to be proud of the manner in which they assisted our families and community, and while we’ve had no prior indication of claims against the department, we will evaluate and respond accordingly in due course.”

A School District spokesperson said the district does not comment about litigation.


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