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Avonte’s family files suit for $25 million

Avonte Oquendo's mother, Vanessa Fontaine (c.), is suing the city over her son's disappearance from his Long Island City school. Photo by Christina Santucci
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Avonte Oquendo’s family is ready to take the city to court.

A lawyer representing the boy’s mother, Vanessa Fontaine, said she filed a $25 million wrongful death suit against the city and the city Department of Education last Friday.

“They blew it on every single level possible,” her attorney, David Perecman, said. “From the way the school was built without a self-closing door to only having one person watching the kids on lunch breaks.”

Avonte’s remains were found on the shore in College Point in January, three months after the 14-year-old autistic boy vanished from his Long Island City school.

Video footage showed Avonte running down a stairwell through the Riverview School’s halls and past a security guard, before darting out a door that had been left open by an unidentified man.

A report released in March by the special commissioner of investigation for the city’s schools, revealed Avonte’s teacher, Julie Murray, had been warned by Fontaine that the autistic teen was a runner before he disappeared. The report said she then failed to share this information with the school’s administrators.

Murray was listed in the lawsuit as a defendant along with the city, DOE and a number of employees at the Riverview School, at 150 51st Ave. The lawsuit claims the negligence of the defendants was responsible for Avonte’s disappearance.

“This involves a tragic incident and we will review the lawsuit,” a spokesman for the city’s Law Department said in a statement.

Fontaine was waiting for the NYPD to release any additional information about Avonte’s disappearance, which she requested, before she filed the lawsuit. The NYPD only released the documents she had requested in Freedom of Information request when the city’s Medical Examiner’s office concluded its report on the cause of Avonte’s death. It’s findings were inconclusive.

Fontaine also had to wait to be named administrator of Avonte’s estate before going ahead with the lawsuit, Perecman said.

In the wake of Avonte’s death, U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) introduced and passed legislation, known as Avonte’s Law, that would provide federal funds for GPS trackers for children with autism.

In addition, a package of bills has been introduced in the City Council to better safeguard students with disabilities such as autism. This includes legislation that would expand Schumer’s legislation to supply funding for GPS trackers for all children with disabilities.

A bill which would require schools to have alarms on exit doors is set to face a public hearing June 12.

Perecman heralded the package of bills, but said more needs to be done. Not a single school employee has lost his or her job or been reprimanded in any way over Avonte’s disappearance, Perecman said.

“The GPS devices are a good idea and the entire package is necessary because they aren’t capable of making the changes that need to be made,” he said.

Reach reporter Alex Robinson by e-mail at arobinson@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4566.

Posted 12:00 am, June 6, 2014
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Reader feedback

runner from queens says:
Do not understand why the reason he ran away does not seem to have been addressed. He has a history of running. Was he being bullied?
Putting better locks, security guards at doors, etc will not change why a kid feels he needs to run.
June 6, 2014, 9:44 am
shag from jamaica says:
Sad but i don't know what you can do to stop a child that wants to get out of a school, locked rooms and outer doors, security guards - sounds like a jail....
June 7, 2014, 6:38 pm
more info from usa says:
To the two posters above - Avonte was autistic, each child has unique traits, and running was one of Avonte's.

Also, I seriously doubt a classroom of autistic children believe locked doors/guards/etc are like jail, those safeguards are for their protection.
June 13, 2014, 12:02 am
Ms_dll from Bronx says:
Thank you "more info from usa" for responding to those two pea brains up above smh he was autistic duh he wasn't being bullied or trying to leave school
June 18, 2014, 10:12 pm

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