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Two added to suit over 6-year-old's death

By Sally Voth -- svoth@nvdaily.com

STRASBURG -- Half Moon Beach is being sued for more than $24 million by the family of one of last summer's two drowning victims.

Sunday will mark the one-year anniversary of the drowning of Dakota Lee Hansen, 6, of Culpeper.

Her father, Edward Keith Hansen, the administrator of her estate, filed a lawsuit in Shenandoah County Circuit Court against Half Moon Beach Park Inc., Skyline Paintball, Strasburg Land LLC and Dunmore Land LLC in November.

On Tuesday, Richard D. and Stuart A. Bernstein, co-executors of the estate of Leo Bernstein, and Stanley W. Colton were added to the wrongful death suit, according to court records. Bernstein, who died last year, was president of Half Moon Beach, the filing says, Colton was secretary and both were directors.

Half Moon Beach, which featured swimming in the former quarry, did not reopen this summer.

In addition to Dakota's death, Nathaniel B. King, 26, of Marshall, drowned there July 16, 2008.

According to the lawsuit, Half Moon Beach and Skyline Paintball co-owned and co-operated Half Moon Beach Park, which was leased to them by Strasburg Land and Dunmore Land.

It says the defendants "negligently invited the general public to pay for the use of the Half Moon Beach Park amusement, recreation and swimming facility," but failed to post warning signs that would be intelligible to a 6-year-old.

The suit says Dakota was swimming in the quarry's shallow children's section, which dropped off 15-20 feet at the edge. It accuses the lifeguards of inadequacy.

"[The lifeguards were] eating, talking amongst themselves, talking on cell phones and text messaging their friends without keeping an adequate watch and supervision over swimmers," the lawsuit says.

It says Dakota was survived by her parents and six siblings. The suit seeks $24.35 million.

According to court records, Skyline Paintball denies being co-owner or co-operator of the beach park.

In its answer, Half Moon Beach says Dakota's parents were negligent in her death.

Another filing by the beach says that Dakota had "significantly delayed fine and gross motor skills as well as ADHD with conduct disturbance." It says her parents allowed her to be in the water without an adult, with her father waiting for friends and her mother on the beach with a toddler.

Strasburg Land filed a cross-claim saying that when it leased the property to Skyline Paintball, Skyline agreed to indemnify it against any damages or losses. Any judgment awarded against Strasburg Land should be paid by Skyline, the claim says, because Strasburg Land didn't select, hire or train the lifeguards at the beach.

Strasburg Land also filed a demurrer.

"The primary duty to inform, advise and protect a child against such natural open and obvious danger is upon the parents," it says.

A safety evaluation of the park done by the Strasburg police, fire and rescue departments, along with the state police, was included in the court file. It says at least three lifeguard stations should be in use, rather than just the one when Dakota drowned.

The station being used had visibility issues, the report says. It says two-way radios should be used rather than cell phones, and that lifeguards should be trained regarding issues common to quarries, such as drop-offs, submerged objects and deep water.

On Friday, Colton said he not yet seen the lawsuit.

An attorney representing Dunmore was out of the office on Friday. Attorneys for Skyline Paintball and Half Moon Beach couldn't be reached Friday.

Motions are scheduled to be heard on Thursday, according to court records.

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