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Parents of an 18-year-old who drowned off Mission Beach said San Diego lifeguards failed to prevent his death

Parents of Woodlain Zachee filed a legal claim against the city of San Diego, alleging city lifeguards were understaffed and failed to warn swimmers of dangers.

SAN DIEGO — The parents of an 18-year-old Crawford High School graduate who drowned in Mission Beach in June of last year and whose body was never found say the city of San Diego failed to prevent their son's death.

In a newly filed legal claim obtained by CBS 8, attorneys representing the parents of Woodlain Zachee Prudhomme say city lifeguards were understaffed the day their son and two of his friends went swimming near Tower 15 in Mission Beach, so much so, according to the claim, a lifeguard directed the three teens to swim towards another lifeguard stand, directly into a powerful rip current. 

Reads the legal claim, "a lifeguard negligently directed him to swim into, rather than away from, a dangerous location due to the presence of a rip current." 

During the search, a lifeguard captain described the rip current as "pulling very hard" and was as deep as 70 feet offshore.

The legal claim also adds that the city failed to put signs warning swimmers of the powerful rip currents that day. If they had, alleges the family, 18-year-old Zachee would have never gone into the water. 

"Had [he] been warned about the existence of a rip current in that location, he either would not have entered the water or would have entered the water far away from the rip current," reads the legal claim obtained by CBS 8. "Had the City adequately staffed the beach with lifeguards, it is more likely than not that Zachee would have been saved from drowning in the rip current."

Zachee's drowning gained widespread attention as lifeguards, and the U.S. Coast Guard searched for Zachee's remains for days after the rescue mission was called off. 

Zachee went to Mission Beach with friends just one day after graduating from Crawford High School, where he was a star basketball player.

Attorney Brett Schreiber is one of the lawyers representing the family in its case against the city. Schreiber says the city failed to invest in basic infrastructure.

"The Prudhomme family authorized us to file the claim and we’re continuing our investigation. This is a preventable tragedy caused by the City’s failure to invest in basic infrastructure, in this case, the human capital of trained lifeguards to keep our beaches safe. While our community expects lifeguards to keep us safe in this instance it appears those same lifeguards put our client’s life in peril by directing him and his companion directly into a dangerous rip current. Mr. Prudhomme lost his life because of it. His parents lost their 18-year-old son."  

Added Schreiber, "There are no words for the depth of suffering a family endures due to the loss of a child. His parents will forever carry that emptiness and his twin brother has forever lost his other half. Our community lost a beautiful young man who was a force for good and inspiration on and off the court."  

The legal claim, the first step before filing a lawsuit, seeks damages for Zachee's pain and suffering and a wrongful death claim for the family. 

The claim comes as the city of San Diego continues to struggle with shortages of lifeguards.

According to an October 2022 report from San Diego's Independent Budget Analyst, boosting the number of lifeguards is a top priority for the city and city council members.

However, citywide, according to the Independent Budget Analyst, shortages of lifeguards will worsen as 25 percent of the force is expected to retire in the next three to four years.

The city declined to comment on the allegations. 

A spokesperson told CBS 8 that the city's Risk Management Department is "evaluating the claim."

This article as updated to include a statement from the family's attorney.

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