Crime & Courts

Settlement reached in tragic death of Wichita girl, 11, at church lake party

The parents of a Wichita girl who drowned at a church lake party in 2017 have reached a settlement with the church and owners of the home where the tragedy occurred.

“The church has taken measures ... to make sure that nothing like this ever happens again,” Brad LaForge, attorney for Andy and Joanna Cramb, said Tuesday. The Crambs are parents of the drowning victim, 11-year-old Shelby Cramb. LaForge wouldn’t elaborate on the safety steps taken by the church.

Lawyers for the church and the home owners didn’t comment.

On Dec. 10, a petition was filed in Sedgwick County District Court to approve the settlement. There has been no lawsuit because an amicable settlement has been reached, LaForge said.

The legal document doesn’t disclose the settlement amount. The settlement terms are confidential, LaForge said.

The petition names as defendants Pathway Church and homeowners Matthew and Laurisa Washburn.

In the summer of 2017, Shelby got an invitation from Pathway Church “to attend the end of summer ‘lake party’ hosted by the defendants at the Washburn residence,” in the 3200 block of North Ridge Port Circle, the petition says. The house and others back up to a private lake called Big Slough. That’s near 29th and Ridge, in west Wichita.

“The defendants owed a duty to keep Shelby Cramb safe and breached that duty,” the petition says. It refers to the drowning as a “wrongful death” and cites “conscious pain and suffering Shelby endured.”

The petition gives this brief account: Shelby’s father took her to the Washburn home at 2 p.m. Aug. 27, 2017. She was “discovered to be missing” about 5 p.m., according to the petition. About 6:30 p.m., divers found her body under water in the lake behind the home.

Separate from the petition, Andy Cramb said Tuesday that when he, his wife and son went to pick up his daughter at 4 that afternoon, they were the ones who realized that Shelby was missing.

An autopsy determined that she died from an accidental drowning.

This past October, a mediation involving the parents, the defendants and attorneys resulted in an “amicable compromise settlement of all claims” brought by the parents, the petition says.

“The parties request that the court approve the settlement, equitably apportion the settlement proceeds and approve reasonable attorney fees,” it says.

No life jacket

Shelby was a sixth-grade student at Maize Middle School.

In an interview six days after his daughter’s death, Andy Cramb told an Eagle reporter his daughter was a strong and experienced swimmer.

His daughter knew the importance of life jackets and always wore them – but not at the party, he said.

The Eagle reported then that Shelby disappeared under the murky water at the lake party, attended by 105 to 110 other children.

Cramb said he assumed that some type of flotation device would be available at the party. According to the police reports, vests were worn by at least some of the children that day when they went out in groups of eight on boats to go tubing. While waiting on boats, the kids could go swimming.

Cramb said he didn’t know whether there was a “buddy system” for the swimmers.

According to the police reports, four to five adults were supervising from the beach as children swam near water described as chest-deep before dropping off.

Lake water “is dark, and they can disappear in an instant,” Cramb said.

Daughter’s death to ‘mean something’

Cramb and his wife, Joanna, thought about not letting Shelby go to the party, partly because they had a busy weekend. But, he said, “I wanted to give her a little freedom,” not be a “helicopter parent.”

Shelby was reportedly last seen swimming about eight minutes before a group photo was taken, a photo in which she didn’t appear.

Cramb said his red-haired daughter was remembered for her love of people and nature, that she “didn’t have a bad day.”

“I want the lost life of my daughter to mean something,” he said then.

Tim Potter has covered crime and safety for The Eagle for more than 20 years. His focus is the story behind the story and government accountability. He can be reached at 316-268-6684.