The Missouri Court of Appeals’ Eastern District has upheld a circuit judge’s ruling that shut down a popular recreational lake in southeast Missouri that’s been the site of at least nine deaths.
The Court of Appeals has affirmed Madison County Judge Wendy Horn’s 2019 ruling, which ordered “The Offsets” near Fredericktown to be closed until several safety measures are implemented.
Attorney General Eric Schmitt (R) praises the ruling, saying that at least nine people have died at the Offsets since the 1980’s.
“This watering hole is an old flooded lead mine,” Schmitt says. “There’s very difficult ingress and egress for people to get in and out of the water. There are no lifeguards on duty, there’s just no precautions taken.”
Former Attorney General Josh Hawley’s office filed the lawsuit against the Offsets in July 2018. Hawley described the Offsets then as a “serious danger to the public, as evidenced by the repeated tragedies that have occurred at this commercial location.”
The Court of Appeals’ Eastern District ruling says nine people have died at the Offsets since 1989. The ruling says four of the victims died while swimming in the quarry, while the other five died from injuries sustained from jumping or falling into the quarry from the bluffs above.
The Court of Appeals’ decision means the facility must remain closed, until numerous safety measures are implemented.
Schmitt describes the facility as a public nuisance. He tells Missourinet that the court’s decision will likely save lives.
“Look, over the years this has been a place where people have drowned, and not just a single tragic incident, but nine separate times,” says Schmitt.
The quarry at the Offsets is surrounded by 40-foot bluffs, where people have jumped into the lake below. The Offsets also offered swimming, scuba diving and hiking. Visitors camped there as well.
The court ruling says “upwards of hundreds of people visited the Offsets” on a given day, when it was open. It says that when guests arrived, they had to sign a waiver “notifying them of general dangers on the property and that they swim and dive at their own risk.” The court ruling also says an employee would warn guests not to jump off the high bluffs into the quarry.
In its 19-page ruling, the Court of Appeals’ decision prevents the Offsets from re-opening until they submit an emergency response plan and require all patrons jumping into the water to wear Coast Guard-approved life vests. The Offsets must also place a lifeguard in a boat to be available to rescue swimmers. And jumping would only be allowed in certain areas, with lifeguards stationed in those areas.
The owners of the facility disagreed with Judge Horn’s ruling, and filed an appeal. They argue the activity took place on private property, and that Judge Horn erred in her ruling.
The appellants also say Judge Horn erred in concluding that their operation of the Offsets constituted a public nuisance, because “the evidence does not support a public nuisance because nine deaths over thirty-two years is not a public nuisance.”
In their ruling, the Missouri Court of Appeals’ Eastern District slammed that argument.
“This statement seemingly diminishes the deaths of nine people, which we find appalling, and is also somewhat inaccurate,” the court writes. Their ruling says swimming and diving at the Offsets only happens during warm seasons, which is less than half of the year.
“In reality those nine deaths occurred over a period of time closer to 16 years,” the Court of Appeals writes.
“In essence, appellants ask this court to turn a blind eye to the several deaths of members of the public that have occurred in the course of appellants’ operation of the Offsets over the last three decades. This we will not do, especially considering the substantial evidence supporting the trial court’s findings and conclusions regarding appellants’ systematic failures spanning over 30 years to sufficiently warn invited members of the public of inherently dangerous conditions present on the Hensons’ property and to adequately attempt to prevent or prepare for injury caused by those dangerous conditions,” the Court of Appeals writes.
Schmitt tells Missourinet the case is likely over. He believes the Offsets will remain closed, because he doesn’t think the owners will make the plans ordered by the court.
Click here to listen to the full four-minute interview between Missourinet’s Brian Hauswirth and Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt, which was recorded on April 16, 2020:
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