East Brunswick faces lawsuit over teen’s accidental drowning death in 2020

On Jan. 22, 2020, Yousef Khela accidentally drowned in East Brunswick's Municipal Pond. The township is now being sued by his father, Eshak Khela, for negligence.

EAST BRUNSWICK – On the afternoon of Jan. 22, 2020, patrol units were alerted to the East Brunswick municipal pond after a report stated that several juveniles had fallen in.

Two male juveniles managed to escape the pond on their own. However, 13-year-old Yousef Khela slipped under the ice before responding officers and paramedics could rescue him.

Upon the arrival of emergency personnel, Yousef was recovered from the pond. In critical condition, he was then rushed to Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in New Brunswick.

On Jan. 22 at 7:45 p.m., Yousef Khela passed away at the hospital.

Two years later, Yousef’s father, Eshak Khela, is suing the Township East Brunswick for the wrongful death of his son.

The lawsuit filed in Superior Court of New Jersey’s Middlesex County division on Jan. 21, 2022, outlines allegations of gross negligence by the township and police department, stating, “The defendants and/or their agents, servants and/or employees were careless, negligent, grossly negligent and palpably/patently unreasonable.”

Furthermore, it states that several safeguards and warning signs were reportedly absent from the pond. Thus, inadvertently suggesting that the pond posed no safety threat to the public.

“It was reasonably foreseeable that public visitors to the aforesaid park, including the plaintiff’s decedent, Yousef Khela, would step upon, stand on and/or attempt to walk upon the aforesaid frozen pond under the circumstances since there were no warning signs, barriers, fencing or any other protective measures in place to dissuade, discourage and/or prevent members of the public from doing so” the lawsuit states.

It also states that officers failed to protect the welfare of the juveniles before the incident occurred. Allegedly, officers witnessed the group crossing the pond, but failed to prohibit or prevent them from moving further, according to the lawsuit.

“Officers No. 1-20 recognized, knew or should have known by their training and/or their ministerial duties that what they observed constituted an emergency and imminent risk to the lives of the boys.

“Yet they turned their backs and walked inside police headquarters, ceased or abandoned any effort to, and, in fact, took no effective action to prevent the ensuing incident and drowning death involving the plaintiff’s decedent,” the lawsuit states.

The lawsuit referred to the municipal pond as a “dangerous” and “hazardous” piece of public property. It says that the township and police department breached their civic duties by failing to implement safety precautions and a comprehensive plan of action for emergency situations.

Stating that the township failed to “have in place an effective emergency plan to rescue visitors of the park who fell through ice and/or into the water of the municipal pond, properly and effectively train its/their agents, servants and/or employees in emergency water rescue, failing to have in place an effective water and frozen pond water rescue program.”

The lawsuit also mentions that Yousef’s family has suffered “substantial and permanent damages for their loss of the love, affection, guidance, wisdom, advice, counsel, companionship, and services of their son and brother.”

Therefore, in an attempt to rectify the tragedy, Eshak Khela is seeking “judgment against the defendants, jointly and/or severally, for compensatory damages pursuant to New Jersey’s Wrongful Death and Survivorship Acts, along with interest, costs of suit, and for such further relief that the court may deem fair and just.”

Chief Frank LoSacco of the East Brunswick Police Department said this is active litigation. He cannot comment.

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