‘Wish We Had One More Day': Family Suing Day Camp After 6-Year-Old Daughter Drowns

The family believes a drastic lack of oversight at California's day camps played a part in their child's death.

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Many summer day camps are opening this week. And while children are bound to have fun, one family is warning that they may not be safe -- and not only because of COVID-19. 

The I-Team has learned that day camps here in California drastically lack oversight and one family believes that played a part in their daughter's death. 

"She was a magical child," Elena Matyas said. "Her presence, her energy, her curiosity, her inquisitive nature, just waking up each morning ready to explore the world." 

Last summer, Matyas' daughter Roxie Forbes went to Summerkids day camp in Altadena. It was the 6-year-old's first time at camp. But on her ninth day -- just 35 minutes after her parents Elena and Doug dropped her off -- a phone call came that would forever change their lives. 

"The assistant camp director said, 'Elena, there's been an accident. Go directly to Huntington Hospital,'" Matyas recalled. "I saw an ambulance and two police cars and a fire truck. It was a motorcade. And I knew. I knew at that moment." 

Doug Forbes, Roxie's father, says his wife ran to the ambulance and "let out a scream that I will never forget in my life." "We left Roxie like the most beautiful child that she is -- gorgeous blonde hair, sparkling eyes and beautiful complexion. And in 40 minutes, she was bloated, blue, no response." 

Roxie had drowned. During her morning pool time, a camp counselor -- outside the pool area -- spotted Roxie floating face down in the water. The four lifeguards on duty missed it all, according to Los Angeles County Sheriff's reports. Two college-aged counselors pulled her from the water and started CPR. 

When paramedics arrived at the scene, Roxie had no pulse. She went into full cardiac arrest, according to hospital reports. 

Doctors later said she had lost all brain function. 

"Within 24 hours, when you literally have to disconnect a machine from your daughter’s beating heart, how do you live that down?" Forbes asked. 

As Matyas and Forbes tried to uncover what went wrong that morning, they were stunned to learn that day camps in California have very little oversight. 

Forty states regulate day camps, but not California. 

There's no licensing board, no oversight body, and the I-Team has learned the state doesn't even track how many camps there are or how many children attend them. 

State Sen. Anthony Portantino (D-La Cañada Flintridge) has introduced a bill that would require day camps to be licensed and monitored by local health departments. 

"There was the connection to their personal story, but then there was the real public policy need that camps need to be regulated," he said. 

Portantino is also pushing for guidelines camps must follow, guidelines many parents probably think are already in place, such as CPR training for lifeguards, criminal background checks for all counselors and adequate staffing. 

"Most of us just assume that’s already the standard. And what we found out through the tragedy of Roxie - it's not," he added. 

Portantino expects some pushback on the bill, largely from a fiscal standpoint. He says health departments may not have the money to hire more staff to handle these additional responsibilities. But he hopes to work through that and have the bill on Gov. Gavin Newsom's desk later this summer. 

"Do you want to see more faces like ours?" Forbes asked. "If you do, then keep ignoring this colossal gap in the system. It's colossal." 

Matyas and Forbes are now suing Summerkids, saying they want to protect other families from preventable tragedies. 

In a statement to the I-Team, an attorney for Summerkids camp said: "Our hearts go out to the Forbes family regarding the tragic accident that took place last summer, the only such incident in the 42-year history of our camp. It is unfortunate that it has resulted in a lawsuit, but we will vigorously defend our dedicated staff members and our camp, and are looking forward to a full airing of the facts." 

"I just wish we had one more day," Matyas said of her late daughter. 

Instead, Roxie's parents have only photos and their memories of the bubbly 6-year-old who went off to camp one morning and never came home.

They've started the Meow Meow Foundation in Roxie's honor, which focuses on water and camp safety.

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