Top Stories of 2012

Boy’s illness, death following swim still felt

The August death of a 9-year-old Stillwater boy by an illness contracted from a water-borne amoeba after he swam in Lily Lake will continue to be felt well into next year after the boy’s family sued the city of Stillwater, Washington County and the state.

Jack Ariola Erenberg, was the second child to die from an amoeba contracted in Lily Lake in the last two years. The other victim was 7-year-old Annie Bahneman, who also died after a late summer swim during one of the hottest summers on record. The amoeba, Naeglaria fowleri, causes Primary Amoebic Meningoencephalitis (PAM) that is a lethal infection of the brain contracted after the amoeba enters through the nose.

The deaths of Ariola Erenberg, Bahneman and 12-year-old Hailee LaMeyer of Chisago County, believed to have died from the amoeba contracted in Fawn Lake near Stacy, are part of the facts of the case in the lawsuit that has the city of Stillwater, the city’s Parks and Recreation Commission, Washington County, and the state of Minnesota Department of Health listed as defendants in a complaint filed on Dec. 21.  The lawsuit claims wrongful death, negligence, failure to warn and violation of ordinances.

The lawsuit alleges that Ariola Erenberg’s parents would not have let him swim in Lily Lake without protection if there had been signs posted there notifying people about the presence of the amoeba in the water and how to prevent contraction of the amoeba.

The lawsuit includes an injunction to post signs at Lily Lake Park about the dangers of the amoeba and tips about how to protect against it. Many people at a town hall meeting in September called for signs to be posted at Lily Lake.

That meeting, arranged by Rep. Kathy Lohmer, R-Lake Elmo, was designed to give people the chance have questions answered and concerns put to rest.  The well-attended meeting featured representatives from the city, county and state, but many people felt they left with more questions than answers.

City officials have said that they are considering posting signs at Lily Lake and they plan to work with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta about how to handle the amoeba.

Another injunction states that if Lily Lake cannot be operated safely that the city should construct a pool. Beginning in August, a group of people petitioned the city to put a pool. The city and Parks and Recreation Commission at this time have not recommended the pool to the city council because the city is unable to afford pool. The city has also cited lack of land as a reason for their inability to build a pool.

The lawsuit also calls for recovery of damages for Ariola Erenberg’s family, and another injunction in the lawsuit would require the city, state and county to distribute information about the risks posed by the amoeba in public service announcements to the public and in schools.