Court hears neither youth worker could swim

Neither of the two youth workers on trial for manslaughter in relation in the 2015 drowning death of teenager Risco Batten could swim, Grand Court jurors heard on Thursday.

Taking the stand, Larry Dwight Levers, 50, told the jury he had worked with the CAYS Foundation as a supervisor at the Bonaventure Boys Home for several years. During that time, he said, no one ever questioned him on his ability to swim, nor was he asked to take swimming lessons. On Wednesday, his co-accused Michael Anthony Stewart, had told the court that he also could not swim.

Levers told the jury that despite his inability to swim, he was still required to attend swimming trips with the boys.

“I would go with them [the boys] on the swimming trips, along with a lifeguard,” said Levers.

Levers said that shortly after the CAYS Foundation took over the boys home, one of the directors gave the home’s safety equipment to her then partner.

“We had about 30 to 35 life jackets or flotation devices,” said Levers, adding that the director gave them to her boyfriend. “We were left with one lone flotation device,” he said.

Levers told the jury that on the morning of 29 Nov. 2015, no water safety equipment was taken with them because the purpose of the trip was strictly for fishing. Levers and Stewart took the group of five boys, including 14-year-old Batten, on a fishing excursion, which was initially intended to be held on the ironshore by the Cayman Turtle Centre.

“I was driving, and we all left in the red passenger van,” said Levers. “We stopped and got gas, then we went and got bait.” From there, Levers said, the group went to George Town.
“We got out next to Burger King, [in George Town]” said Levers. “We circled up and the boys were told the expectations. We fished on the rocks next to Reflections.”

The jury heard that after about 45 minutes, Levers told the boys it was time to go.

“I noticed that the weather had changed, and so I told the boys to pack up,” he said.

Levers told the court that the group went to Paradise restaurant on the waterfront for about 15 minutes before moving on to South Sound.

While responding to questions from his attorney, Courtenay Griffiths, QC, Levers told the court he had never seen any signs warning of dangerous swimming conditions at the beach in South Sound.

“I have been to that site countless times,” Levers said. “There were no signs warning about dangerous swimming conditions, and no one ever told me about dangerous swimming conditions. Each time I told my supervisors that I had taken the residents [the boys] to the spot.”

Both Levers and Stewart remained adamant that although the boys were allowed to enter the water to fish, no one had given them permission to swim, and that the excursion was not intended to be a swimming trip.

“They asked me if they could go into the water and I told them yes,” said Levers. “We were there for about 12 to 15 minutes. They were in about waist-deep water. I saw a big wave coming in; that prompted me to say ‘let’s go’ and all the boys started to proceed. Risco was the tallest of the group and he was the last to start walking back.”

Batten drowned after encountering difficulties while out in the water. Neither Levers nor Stewart entered the water to assist Batten, as both men said they could not swim.

The prosecution’s case is that Levers and Stewart had a duty of care to each of the boys, and that both men failed to discharge that duty, which led to the drowning death of Batten.

Levers told the jury he has since returned to the site, which now features a warning sign.

“There is a sign that says, ‘Warning, strong currents’,” he said.

Levers and Stewart each face one count of manslaughter and one count of cruelty to a child. Both deny the charges and the trial continues.