Mother sues Mormon Church, youth leader in son's drowning death

Published: Friday, Sept. 7 2012 11:29 a.m. MDT

Anglers fish along the shallow banks of the Quail Creek State Park Reservoir in this 2003 file photo. The family of a teenage boy who drowned during a 2011 boating outing at Quail Creek State Park has filed a lawsuit against The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and a youth leader it appointed.

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SALT LAKE CITY — The family of a teenage boy who drowned during a boating outing last summer has filed a lawsuit against The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and a youth leader it appointed.

Tory Von Jones, 17, died on Aug. 4, 2011, in a drowning incident at Quail Creek State Park, according to the complaint filed in U.S. District Court. His mother, Tammy Jones, alleges in the complaint that his death was caused by the negligence of the church and youth leader John Robert Sorenson.

Tory's father signed a permission slip stating that the teen could attend an event on Aug. 3, 2011, but believes that outing "did not take place as planned," according to the complaint. Tory did, however, attend a boating and wake boarding event at the park with Sorenson and six other teens from his LDS ward on Aug. 4, 2011.

"On information and belief, the event was sponsored, authorized, encouraged and approved by the LDS Church and Sorenson was the only adult present and was responsible for six youths, including Tory, and as a youth leader was carrying out the duties and obligations of a youth leader within his assignment on behalf of the LDS Church," the complaint states.

Sorenson had been called as a youth leader in a St. George branch of the church.

Sorenson, Tory and two other boys were boating at Quail Creek reservoir when Tory "was dropped off in the water to swim to shore which was at least 50 yards distant," the complaint states. The teenager apparently did not have any sort of flotation device and had difficulty swimming.

The complaint states that he called to three other teens who were on the shore, but while they reported that they could hear him, they said they did not see him beyond a short time after he first entered the water.

Sorenson and the other two boys had apparently continued to a different area of the reservoir to wake board and didn't return until they learned Tory was missing. His body was found Aug. 5, 2011, submerged in 22 feet of water.

"Tory died … as a result of drowning after leaving the boat operated by John and while under John's care and supervision," the complaint states. "John and the other Doe defendants failed to ensure Tory was properly equipped with any flotation device while in the water, failed to properly instruct, supervise and assist Tory to reach the shore, abandoned Tory while in the water, failed to aid and rescue Tory all of which led to the death of Tory."

The lawsuit's account differs from that given by park officials in August 2011. At that time, it was reported that those in the boat saw Tory make it to the shore, but he was missing when they were preparing to leave the park.

Jones' attorney, Chad Bowers, said the lawsuit's explanation of events came from the official park report on the incident. He said "there are a lot of moving parts" to these types of investigations and the inconsistency is probably explained by the difference in information available between the time that the initial report and the final reports were issued.

"There's obviously a disparity there, but we feel the complaint is accurate based on what's contained in the report," Bowers said.

Jones is asking for a minimum of $75,000 for wrongful death, physical pain and suffering, emotional distress, negligence and failure to warn. The complaint states that Sorenson, as church-appointed leader, should have known "he had a duty to warn, instruct, supervise, monitor the youth group including Tory."

Ten "Does" are also listed in the complaint and are described as unknown persons who "might have caused or contributed to the actions of the named defendants."

LDS Church spokesman Scott Trotter issued a brief statement in response to the lawsuit.

"This is truly a sad situation and we pray for all those affected by this tragedy," he said. "The pending litigation regarding this case makes it inappropriate for us to comment at this time."

E-mail: emorgan@desnews.com Twitter: DNewsCrimeTeam

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