Tuesday, April 24 , 2018, 10:47 pm | Overcast 54º

 
 
 
 

Local News

Wrongful Death Lawsuit Settled with Host Mom for Santa Barbara’s Education First International

The family of a 17-year-old Japanese national has settled a wrongful death lawsuit with a local woman who served as a host through Santa Barbara’s Education First International.

The settlement is pending final documentation, but its confidential terms were agreed upon this month, nearly a year and a half after Vinura Hareen Wijesinghe drowned in the pool of Judith Cooper, a longtime Carpinteria resident and a host for EF foreign-exchange students since 2012.

Local attorney Jay Borgeson represented Cooper in the case and succeeded in quashing a request from the lawyer of Wijesinghe’s parents — Chinthaka and Nalika Wijesinghe, both residents of Japan — to subpoena medical records kept for Cooper at Rite Aid Pharmacy.

Borgeson informed Noozhawk of the planned settlement this week.

In the civil suit, filed in November 2013, Wijesinghe’s parents alleged negligence on the part of Cooper for hosting a party where minors drank alcohol and of EF International for hiring her.

The incident occurred on June 4, 2013, when some of the six EF students living at Cooper’s residence in the 1400 block of Azalea Drive in Carpinteria had a party where most attendees were drinking heavily — although under age 21 — near the backyard swimming pool, according to the suit.

EF International confirmed Wijesinghe was a friend of EF students, and not one himself.

The lawsuit says Cooper, who also ran a swim-lesson business from the pool called Azalea Swim Club, did not have working underwater pool lights or a sign warning a lifeguard wasn’t on duty.

Wijesinghe went into the pool with friends watching, but he never came out, and his friends assumed he left unannounced. Cooper discovered his body in the pool the next morning.

The Santa Barbara County Coroner said the death was caused by drowning, with acute ethanol intoxication.

In court documents, Cooper said she has a strict no drugs policy and 10 p.m. curfew, which was why when she found the youth drinking alcohol around that time, she made them pour it out before they left.

“It is hard to believe that while Ms. Cooper was awake … that she could not hear the children/minors playing ‘drinking games’ in the backyard, swimming in the pool, etc.” the suit states. “What is more likely is that Ms. Cooper was so heavily medicated she simply ignored the facts or was too intoxicated, medicated and comatose to do anything about it until it was too late.”

Earlier this month, Santa Barbara Superior Court Judge Thomas Anderle ruled Cooper would not have to release private pharmacy records for that time and ordered the plaintiff to pay her attorney fees, totaling about $1,400.

“It has been settled to mutual satisfaction,” Borgeson said. “We’re delighted that it got resolved. It’s a tragic case for all concerned. For a family to have lost their young son was a horrible ordeal.”

EF International couldn’t be reached to comment on whether Cooper remains a host for students. Her attorney, who took over the case from a colleague, said he also wasn’t sure.

Noozhawk staff writer Gina Potthoff can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

  • Ask
  • Vote
  • Investigate
  • Answer

Noozhawk Asks: What’s Your Question?

Welcome to Noozhawk Asks, a new feature in which you ask the questions, you help decide what Noozhawk investigates, and you work with us to find the answers.

Here’s how it works: You share your questions with us in the nearby box. In some cases, we may work with you to find the answers. In others, we may ask you to vote on your top choices to help us narrow the scope. And we’ll be regularly asking you for your feedback on a specific issue or topic.

We also expect to work together with the reader who asked the winning questions to find the answer together. Noozhawk’s objective is to come at questions from a place of curiosity and openness, and we believe a transparent collaboration is the key to achieve it.

The results of our investigation will be published here in this Noozhawk Asks section. Once or twice a month, we plan to do a review of what was asked and answered.

Thanks for asking!

Click Here to Get Started >

Support Noozhawk Today

You are an important ally in our mission to deliver clear, objective, high-quality professional news reporting for Santa Barbara, Goleta and the rest of Santa Barbara County. Join the Hawks Club today to help keep Noozhawk soaring.

We offer four membership levels: $5 a month, $10 a month, $25 a month or $1 a week. Payments can be made through PayPal below, or click here for information on recurring credit-card payments.

Thank you for your vital support.


Maestro, Mastercard, Visa, American Express, Discover, Debit

Reader Comments

Noozhawk is no longer accepting reader comments on our articles. Click here for the announcement. Readers are instead invited to submit letters to the editor by emailing them to [email protected]. Please provide your full name and community, as well as contact information for verification purposes only.

Daily Noozhawk

Subscribe to Noozhawk's A.M. Report, our free e-Bulletin sent out every day at 4:15 a.m. with Noozhawk's top stories, hand-picked by the editors.

Sign Up Now >