March 10, 2010 By Russell Carter, Womack Publishing Service Â A Gretna woman filed a $15 million lawsuit Thursday in Pittsylvania County Circuit Court on behalf of her 12-year-son who drowned in 2008 at Smith Mountain Lake State Park. Â Dora Mae Henley is suing Sycamore Baptist Church and the Commonwealth of Virginia, along with lifeguards, chaperones and a park ranger. Â Henley’s son, Marvin Strickland Jr., was at Smith Mountain Lake State Park with a youth group from Sycamore Baptist Church when he drowned Aug. 7, 2008. Strickland was found in 6-7 feet of water around 20 feet from the shore. Â The Virginia Conservation and Recreation Department, which investigated the drowning, estimated Strickland had been missing about 15 minutes before lifeguards began searching for the youth. Â After Strickland was reported missing, lifeguards removed everyone from the water and began diving in the area the boy was last seen.
Â He was found 20-30 minutes later. Â In addition to Sycamore Baptist Church, the lawsuit names Kathy Mohilan, director of youth programs for the church, as well as adult chaperones Lonnie Rowland, Cindy Rowland and Annie Rowland Jones. Â Others named in the lawsuit include Anna Woodford, the head lifeguard at the park; lifeguards Joey Nance and Austin Wood; and park ranger Meredith Bennett. Â According to the lawsuit, Strickland was among six children from Sycamore Baptist Church who went swimming at the state park. Â “When taking the youth group, including Master Strickland, on the trip to the state park, the adult chaperones, and each of them individually, expressly or impliedly assumed duties to supervise and care for Master Strickland for the duration of the trip,” the lawsuit states. Â The lawsuit claims the chaperones were responsible for Strickland’s care on the trip, lifeguards were responsible for watching the boy while he was in the park and the park ranger was responsible for making sure lifeguards were properly trained. Â Henley, who is represented by the Roanoke law firm of Crandall & Katt, is seeking $15 million for sorrow and grief, loss of her son’s income and his funeral expenses. Â The plaintiff also asked for $350,000 in punitive damages.