Siblings of Memorial Day drowning victim to file suit

Siblings of Memorial Day drowning victim to file suit

Michele Ellson
Raymond Zack

UPDATE 10:00 a.m. Friday, May 25: An investigator working for the Zack family's attorneys said he has filed the suit.

The siblings of an Alameda man who drowned off Robert W. Crown State Beach last Memorial Day as dozens of public safety officials and bystanders watched are filing a lawsuit against the city and Alameda County.

The suit, a copy of which was obtained by the Alameda Community News Project in advance of an anticipated court filing on Friday, accuses Alameda police and fire managers who handled the drowning of failing to call in the resources needed to rescue Zack and of discouraging bystanders from rescuing him, both actively and by just being present on the beach, endangering his life due to alleged negligence.

Attorneys for Robert Zack and Bernice Jolliff, Zack’s brother and sister, accused Alameda County dispatchers of bungling the 911 call requesting help for Zack, saying the dispatchers failed to ask if Zack was armed, dangerous or under the influence of drugs or alcohol, and failing to call in the resources needed to effect his rescue. They said county dispatchers and local public safety officials failed to call East Bay Regional Park District police, whose jurisdiction includes the beach, or the nearby Oakland Fire Department.

The 11-page complaint seeks unspecified damages along with medical and funeral expenses and legal costs. Zack’s siblings had made similar accusations in claims filed with the city and county, both of which were denied in January.

City and county officials could not be immediately reached for comment on the suit Thursday night.

Zack died after wading into San Francisco Bay on May 30, 2011 in an apparent suicide attempt while police, firefighters and bystanders watched. Police said they weren’t properly trained to enter the water and firefighters stayed on the beach as well, saying they’d been directed to stay out of the water because the department’s water rescue program had been cut. The Coast Guard vessel that arrived to assist Zack was too big to navigate the shallow water he was standing in.

The water rescue program was shuttered in 2008 and its boats taken out of the water. Money to cover rescue swimmer training became available a year later, a departmental memo showed, but the training was never done.

A psychiatric nurse who was visiting a friend that day jumped into the water to retrieve Zack’s body against public safety officials’ advice, 22 minutes after he had apparently lost consciousness, the suit and documents released by the city show. He was transported to Alameda Hospital and pronounced dead at 12:59 p.m.

A review conducted by the state’s former fire marshal blasted the city’s police and fire departments for a disjointed response, saying they didn’t know what each other’s capabilities were and lacked a clear understanding of the resources other departments could offer toward rescue efforts.

Separately, a group of residents is set to re-enact the incident at 4 p.m. Saturday on Crown Beach, a press release from the Zack family's attorney said.

Related: A year later, police and fire brass say they’re ready

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