Police: Criminal charges possible against landowner in Hobart drownings

2014-06-26T19:13:00Z 2014-06-27T17:05:30Z Police: Criminal charges possible against landowner in Hobart drowningsSarah Reese sarah.reese@nwi.com, (219) 933-3351 nwitimes.com

HOBART | Police said Thursday they have not ruled out criminal charges against the owner of a Hobart property where two children drowned nearly two weeks ago.

Hobart police said Randy Goldschmidt, a heavy equipment operator and contractor, appears to have violated city ordinances and regulations at his property at 4060 Missouri St. The city attorney is considering civil action against Goldschmidt with regard to those alleged violations, police said.

Messages left Thursday at two numbers listed for Goldschmidt were not returned.

With regard to criminal charges, police said the investigation into the boys' death is ongoing. It will take several more days to review all statements and contact more people connected to the case, Police Chief Rick Zormier wrote in a statement released Thursday.

Donel Smith, 9, and Terrion Smith, 8, died June 14 after going into water that had filled a pit created by excavation at the site, which is several blocks from the boys' home in Gary's Glen Park section.

After the boys drowned, Goldschmidt said he was aware juvenile trespassers regularly entered the property, police said. Goldschmidt told investigators he grew tired of responding to neighbors' reports of kids at the site.

"He even claimed to have been threatened by an adult for ordering juveniles off the land," Zormier said.

When police asked Goldschmidt why he had not secured the property, he responded that a lock on a cable at the entry drive was cut weekly and he was tired of replacing it, police said.

"He stated he would post no trespass signs but they would get torn down," Zormier's statement said.

Goldschmidt said he had never called police about trespassers because he tried to handle it himself, police said. A check of records showed police had not received any trespassing complaints at the property before the Smith brothers drowned.

City officials were aware earthmoving was going on at the property as early as April 2013, police said.

Goldschmidt told city officials he intended to build a large pond, police said. The city engineer advised him he would need engineering drawings of the project and a site plan review by the Plan Commission before a permit could be issued.

The city engineer also referred the matter to the city stormwater management coordinator and the city building department to ensure Goldschmidt was in compliance with stormwater, soil erosion and other regulations.

The stormwater coordinator found a drain tile and a breach in a berm were contributing to improper runoff and erosion into a nearby property, police said.

The stormwater coordinator advised Goldschmidt that he had to stop water from improperly running off the property. Goldschmidt also was told he would need a stormwater pollution prevention plan for the project to continue, police said.

"Goldschmidt chose to fill the breach in the berm with clay and plug the drain tile," Zormier's statement said. "After doing so, the site began to retain groundwater."

Goldschmidt was granted two fill permits for adjoining properties to improve backyards, police said. However, Goldschmidt dumped some of the fill on his property and moved it into the landscaping, police said.

After two women complained in May about exposed trees buried in the fill and standing water in the excavated pit, city officials inspected the site. The stormwater coordinator noted Goldschmidt had exceeded the terms of the fill permits, police said.

Donel and Terrion had just finished the school year and were enjoying their first summer weekend when they drowned earlier this month. Their mother said she reluctantly allowed them to play outside after other children in the neighborhood came by asking for them.

After the boys entered the water at the pit, Terrion began to panic and Donel jumped in to help him, police said. Donel also was overcome by panic, and a teenage companion jumped in to help the boys.

The teen swam to the boys, but the boys began to pull the teen under water in an attempt to keep themselves afloat. The teen had to stop rescue efforts and save himself, police said.

Other children at the site ran to a nearby home for help, and an adult from the residence jumped in the water. The adult immediately found the water was much deeper than he expected and he could not touch the bottom. The adult abandoned rescue efforts, and four Hobart officers arrived and entered the water.

Two of those officers had to dive 12 to 20 feet down to recover the boys from the bottom of the pit, police said. Medics immediately began life-saving efforts, but the boys were later pronounced dead at St. Mary Medical Center.

Police went to the property two days after the drownings to issue an order to fence the property or make it safe and found Goldschmidt had breached the berm, drained the pit and was backfilling the site.

Hobart's building commissioner issued a written order June 17 requiring Goldschmidt to remove all berms installed without permit, install erosion control, grade the lot to prevent water containment and remove all debris not permitted under city ordinance, police said.

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