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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
News >  Spokane

City, GU kayaker’s family settle

Freshman died in 2012 after boat capsized in Rock Lake

The city of Spokane has come to an agreement to settle a lawsuit with the family of Christopher Gormley, a Gonzaga University freshman who died after his kayak tipped in the cold, treacherous waters of Rock Lake more than two years ago.

If agreed to by the City Council next week, Gormley’s estate will be paid $550,000 by the city. This adds to an undisclosed amount from Gonzaga, which earlier settled with the family. The mediated agreement will also protect City Hall employee Brandon LeBaron from any further litigation.

LeBaron led the trip to Rock Lake in Whitman County on April 1, 2012, where Gormley, then 18, died from hypothermia after his kayak capsized. Gormley was one of seven people on the trip organized by Gonzaga Outdoors, which contracted with the city’s parks department to provide equipment and a guide for the trip.

About 30 minutes after launch, three men, including Gormley, capsized in single-seat kayaks in rough water. The two other kayakers who tipped, including LeBaron, eventually made it to shore.

The National Weather Service issued a wind advisory early the morning of the trip for the Palouse, warning of sustained southwest winds of 25 to 30 mph with gusts up to 50 mph. Although all the participants were wearing life jackets, only LeBaron was wearing a wetsuit even though the water temperature was about 40 degrees and the air was about 35 degrees, according to the Whitman County Sheriff’s Office incident report.

Lee Corkrum, who represented Gormley’s family, did not immediately return calls for comment.

City Attorney Nancy Isserlis couldn’t comment directly on the settlement. She did confirm it was the largest the city’s reached this year.

City Council members appeared ready to agree to the settlement.

“This is a tragic situation,” Councilman Mike Allen said. “I’m glad we were able to come to a resolution.”

Councilwoman Amber Waldref agreed.

“My heart goes out to the family,” she said. “Things of this nature are among the most difficult things we have to do as a council.”

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