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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.

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