State report: Drivers committed six policy violations in juvenile camp fatal crash

Map of the location of the fatal accident in eastern Collier County

Map of the location of the fatal accident in eastern Collier County

Daniel Huerta

Daniel Huerta

Johnson Atilard

Johnson Atilard

— A state investigation found six policy violations related to a December 2011 crash that killed a juvenile justice contractor employee and a Bonita Springs teen in eastern Collier County.

A 17-page Department of Juvenile Justice inspector general's report released this week laid blame for the six policy violations on the two top administrators at Big Cypress Wilderness Institute, a juvenile justice facility in Ochopee for male teens, as well as the driver who crashed an SUV into a canal last year.

The driver, Johnson Atilard, 25, and Daniel Huerta, 17, drowned. Seven surviving passengers were hospitalized briefly.

The investigation found administrators allowed Atilard, of Cape Coral, to drive too many teens with not enough seat belts, all while talking on a cellphone.

Atilard's company driving privileges were revoked at the time of the crash, and administrators failed to notice Atilard lied on his job application about his driving record. By the time of the crash, Atilard had accumulated at least 18 traffic citations since 2006.

"The inspector general's investigation was thorough and comprehensive," said Department of Juvenile Justice spokesman C.J. Drake. "We will continue to closely monitor the AMIkids program in Collier County to ensure that the employees there effectively enforce policies and procedures for the benefit of our youth."

The inspector general's report found former Big Cypress executive director Daniel Washington and director of operations Frantz Lindor were each responsible for at least three policy violations. Washington was demoted and later resigned after the crash; Lindor was fired.

"Everything that's written in the IG report is consistent with our own internal investigation and the concerns they raised," said Judy Estren, vice president of support services and corporate council for AMIkids, a Tampa-based nonprofit organization overseeing the Big Cypress Wilderness Institute.

Five of the six policy violations had been reported, either by the Department of Juvenile Justice or the Daily News in a mid-March article about the crash.

The lone new violation alleged in the report was that Lindor told at least one juvenile to lie about the number of teens in Atilard's SUV when it crashed. Lindor wanted the teen to lie "because that would have meant there were too many people in the car and Lindor was going to get in trouble," the inspector general's report states.

Investigators couldn't reach Lindor for questioning about the allegation after it surfaced late in the inquiry.

Steve Schwed, the lawyer for Huerta's parents, who filed a lawsuit against the Big Cypress Wilderness Institute alleging negligence, questioned whether there should have been better oversight of Washington and Lindor.

"There were management decisions that led up to this that allowed it to happen," Schwed said. "Obviously, they didn't train their folks properly."

Both Washington and Lindor talked with the inspector general's investigators at least one time. Neither has spoken publicly since the crash, and neither could be reached to comment Friday.

Washington told investigators he allowed Atilard to drive — even though his driving privileges were revoked by a February 2011 memo — because he "did not remember giving Atilard the memo and did not remember Atilard wasn't eligible to drive for the program," the report states.

Scott McIntyre/Staff 
 The intersection of Birdon Road and Wagon Wheel Road in Big Cypress.

Photo by SCOTT MCINTYRE // Buy this photo

Scott McIntyre/Staff The intersection of Birdon Road and Wagon Wheel Road in Big Cypress.

Lindor told investigators he never was told Atilard wasn't allowed to drive company vehicles.

The inspector general's report said Lindor reviewed its contents and didn't have any comments about the findings. Washington was provided with the report by the Department of Juvenile Justice but didn't respond to the findings.

The inspector general's report lists recommended changes to AMIkids' program policy, all of which AMIkids officials said have been made. They include requiring staff to report traffic violations they receive and that long-distance trips with juveniles are "carefully considered for the potential of driver fatigue."

"Prior to learning what their investigative report contained, we had either addressed or were in the process of addressing these recommendations," Estren said.

The report likely won't have a significant effect on the lawsuit, which is in its early stages, Schwed said.

© 2012 Naples Daily News. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Comments » 5

angrytxpyr writes:

A non-profit public service corporation, HMMMMM, sounds like the same gig Lee Memorial has going and same one that allowed "sovereign immunity" along with the false sense of security that no matter how badly they screwed up they would be on the hook for $200,000. I wonder if they have liability insurance. Given Altiturds driving record and the fact the van was overloaded I would expect criminal charges such as manslaughter against at the very least that Lindor guy. After all it was his negligence that set the whole tragedy in motion!!!

Niki_6 writes:

How lazy is an employer that fails to check the actual driving record against potential misinformation on an application, when you are hiring a man to transport juveniles? He could have been a criminal with malicious intent. Then they discover that he has lied, and still allow him to continue to work there and drive, because they fogot. Nice going. What are they so busy doing that they can't keep simple administrative tasks in order?

swamp4ever writes:

"The (enabling) legislation (of Big Cypress) further states the management of the area should be in accordance ‘with the provisions of the Act of August 25, 1916 (NPS Organic Act),'" he writes. "Thus, the natural and ecological integrity of the preserve is the fundamental value that Congress directed the National Park Service to protect."

I'd like to know how this boot camp promotes the natural and ecological integrity of the national preserve.

suzaunt writes:

Does liability reach to the DJJ folks who approved the contract... and then to the taxpayers who pay the bills? Privatization issue.

rags123 writes:

Talking while driving!!

Why did the legislature, Rep Gary Aubuchon, and many other members of the Tallhassee vote to prohibit cell texting and driving.

Lobby anyone?

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