$1 Million Claim Denied After Soccer Goal Kills Child

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Arkansas legislators on Wednesday (March 6) denied a $1 million claim to a Benton County family whose son died after an unanchored soccer goal fell on him at a Bentonville school.

It’s been more than two years since 9-year-old Jonathan Nelson died, and his parents refuse to give up the fight to protect local children.

"So this doesn't happen again to another child, and another family doesn't have to go through what we went through," said Nathan Nelson, Jonathan's dad.

A claims subcommittee of the state Legislature recommended last week that the family be awarded $1 million from the state Department of Human Services, which the parents claim is ultimately responsible for anchoring soccer goals. The Legislature's Joint Budget Committee rejected the recommendation Wednesday.

DHS released a statement through its spokeswoman Wednesday that states, “As we said before, this was a tragic situation, but it didn't happen at a DHS licensed program or property that was required to be inspected by DHS.”

The Nelson family has traveled numerous times to Little Rock to attend hearings. They visited the claims subcommittee in December and in February when the subcommittee voted in their favor. The family was also present during Wednesday's Joint Budget Committee hearing.

"It doesn't seem like there's true resolution, and we as a family through this process are looking for closure," Nelson said.

Sen. Bart Hester, R- Cave Springs, is a member of the Joint Budget Committee. He said the wrongful death claim failed to pass by just a few votes. The $1 million recommendation needed 29 votes to pass, but came up short, 23-7.

Hester, who voted for the $1 million recommendation, said he supports the family and that it's a difficult process for the state to pay money in a settlement.

"Typically, I would say 95 out of 100 times, the committee goes with the subcommittee’s recommendation," Hester said. "But this time, it's a large amount of money and they just weren't comfortable with it this morning."

The claim heads back to the subcommittee, which will then make another recommendation to the Joint Budget Committee.

"We decided instead of killing it, we're going to send it back to subcommittee," Hester said.

Hester said not all 56 members cast their vote.

"We're going to talk to more members and decide if it's a lesser value that we get everybody to vote for it and agree on it, or if we just didn't have enough people there," Hester said.

The Nelson family remembers Jonathan’s energetic, sweet and loving personality. Wednesday is their older son's Tyler 16th birthday, and since the brothers shared the same birthday month, they used to celebrate it together. Jonathan's birthday was March 21.

"That's one of the hard things that we have to deal with on a year-to-year basis, let alone the daily things that we miss about him and the void that's left in our lives," Nelson said.