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Arlington makes changes to splash pads after 3-year-old dies of brain-eating amoeba

Bakari Williams became ill in September 2021 after being killed by a brain-eating amoeba linked to a City of Arlington parks splash pad.

ARLINGTON, Texas — The City of Arlington has settled with the family of a 3-year-old boy killed by a brain-eating amoeba linked to a park splash pad, and city officials are making policy changes as a result.

Bakari Williams, 3, became ill on Sept. 5 2021, after playing at the splash pad at Don Misenhimer Park. They rushed him to an urgent care facility when he developed a fever approaching 103 degrees. He was taken to Cook Children's Medical Center in Fort Worth, where he was diagnosed with primary amebic meningoencephalitis caused by the Naegleria fowleri amoeba. Williams died on Sept. 11.

In an interview with WFAA in late September, Arlington Mayor Jim Ross said "we absolutely failed." Ross said poor oversight likely contributed, water quality testing was not done consistently and chlorination had fallen below minimum requirements. 

Credit: WFAA

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed the presence of the amoeba in water samples taken from the Arlington splash pad. The city subsequently shut down all of its splash pads, according to Ross. 

The family filed a lawsuit in October, seeking at least $1 million in damages. The city settled this week with the family for a quarter of that amount.

Arlington city officials sent WFAA a statement Thursday, saying, in part, that it is "making a significant investment in the installation of health and safety equipment and other improvements for our public pools and splash pads."

"This includes technology that will automatically shut off any splash pads where water readings are not in the acceptable ranges and the addition of QR codes that will allow visitors to see real-time information about water quality," the statement continued.

The city said its new policies, outlined in what is called the "The Bakari Williams Protocol,” will be adopted this year prior to the opening of its aquatics facilities. 

Bakari's family spoke in a press conference Thursday afternoon amid the news of the $250,000 settlement.

"We want to make certain what happened to our son, what happened to our family, does not happen to anybody else," Bakari's mother, Kayla Mitchell, said on Thursday.

Bakari's parents were asked if they trust the new changes to splash pads.

"I trust the protocol, that I do. Trusting people to take responsibility, trusting their employees to take what's being implements and actually implement it? That's a different thing," Bakari's father, Tariq Williams, said.

"As long as the proper precautions are taken, you get to go home with your little ones," he added.


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