October 18, 2008 in City

Father files suit in son’s boating death

13-year-old died in July on Lake CdA
By The Spokesman-Review
The Spokesman-Review photo

Trenton Newlon
(Full-size photo)

Danial Newlon struggled to learn whether his 13-year-old son was dead or alive after getting a brief phone call and seeing a blip on the news about a boating accident last July on Lake Coeur d’Alene’s Carlin Bay.

After Newlon found out his son had died, he discovered he had no rights to the boy’s body.

The Army captain, who had custody of the boy, lives in Virginia and works for the Pentagon. Trenton Newlon was visiting his mother, Nicole Alexander, of Spokane Valley.

The 36-year-old father filed a wrongful death lawsuit last week against two of the boy’s family members: the driver of the boat and the person in charge of watching those pulled behind it. The driver was the boy’s maternal grandfather, Marvin Markham, and the spotter was a cousin, Leisha Konrad.

Newlon claims the two were negligent when his son slipped under the boat and his arm was cut by the propeller. Mary Schultz, Newlon’s lawyer, says the father wants something in return for the loss of love and companionship of his child.

“But how do you put a price on that?” Schultz said.

Alexander says her ex-husband’s lawsuit stems from a desire to finance a political campaign he’s planning after his retirement from the Army.

“The grandfather is just devastated,” said Markham’s attorney, Tim Cronin. “Hopefully dad can realize this was just an accident.”

The Kootenai County Sheriff’s Department, which investigated the death, has not issued any citations or charges.

After the accident, the boat was immediately taken out of the water and hasn’t been used since, Cronin said. Engineers from both sides of the lawsuit plan to inspect it.

Meanwhile, both sides of the boy’s family struggle with his loss.

On July 15, Trenton Newlon was boating with his grandfather, cousin and four other children. The teen was behind the boat on a wakeboard. When the boat stopped, he decided to switch out his life jacket because it was too tight, his mother said.

Konrad, the cousin, turned around to grab another one, and when she looked back the boy was gone. “My cousin immediately jumped into the water,” Alexander said. “After she pulled him into the boat he looked at my dad and said, ‘Grandpa, I don’t want to die.’ “

The teen lost consciousness. “My cousin did CPR on him until the paramedics got there,” Alexander said.

When Alexander heard about the accident, she crumpled to the floor at her Spokane Valley home. A friend grabbed her cell phone and called a number for “Danny.”

Because he’d received limited information, Alexander says, her ex-husband called the media to find out more but he was unable to learn much more.

From the lake, the teen was taken by air ambulance first to Coeur d’Alene, then to Sacred Heart Medical Center in Spokane. Neither parent could find out where he’d gone.

When Danial Newlon called Sacred Heart to learn his son’s condition, he was told employees needed to verify his relationship to the boy and get back to him. Hospital officials confirmed his identity and called him back within a few minutes, spokeswoman Maureen Goins said.

But the father was frustrated by the lack of information, even for a short period, his lawyer said.

“The thing turned even worse for him after the death is confirmed,” Schultz said. “The dad wanted the body back in Virginia to bury his son. But the hospital won’t release it.

“Apparently, once a child dies, the custodial right ends.”

Trenton’s mother wanted to keep her son’s body nearby, while his father wanted him buried closer to where he’d been living. After a three-week dispute in court, a Spokane County judge said the decision was Alexander’s.

The boy was buried in Post Falls near the graves of aunts, uncles and Alexander’s brother. “I wanted him to be with family,” Alexander said. “I visit him every Sunday.”

Alexander says her ex-husband wants to use a political office to change the law to give custodial parents the right to decide where their children are buried. Newlon’s attorney did not return a phone call seeking to confirm that.

Markham’s lawyer, Cronin, said: “We’re hopeful we can resolve this suit out of court. We think this is the kind of case that would be better if it did not go to court.”

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