St. Joseph County reaches settlement with family in deadly pond crash

Published: Nov. 14, 2023 at 5:57 PM EST
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ST. JOSEPH COUNTY, Ind. (WNDU) - A $5 million settlement agreement approved today will provide St. Joseph County some closure with the Kleven family.

The family lost the lives of two young children on New Year’s Eve 2019 in a freak accident that exposed many shortcomings at the county’s 911 dispatch center.

On Dec. 31, 2019, Brooke Kleven was driving with her three young children when her car slid off the road into a retention pond and began to sink.

She called 911 from inside the vehicle. That call has been described as “five minutes of terror.”

“Anybody who heard the tapes, the 911 call, can’t help but be moved by the whole situation,” said County Commission President Carl Baxmeyer.

At one point, Brooke Kleven asks, “I need some air, what do I do?”

The dispatcher answered the question, but her microphone was accidentally set on mute.

The lawsuit further claims that dispatchers responded to a call of a car in a pond with people trapped inside by sending a fire department crew that was not equipped to perform a water rescue.

A 2-year-old girl and a 4-year-old boy died. The mother and her 3-month-old son survived but developed serious health complications.

‘We had two settlement agreements involving the Kleven family,” said attorney Peter J. Agostino. “The first ($1.66 million) involved the claims of the parents related to the loss of the two children, and then the second ($3.3 million) portion was the claims of the surviving mom and the surviving child. Those settlements today were approved. It’s going to be a total payment of $5 million to the family.”

“Dollars can’t make up for what happened,” Baxmeyer told 16 New Now. “But we’ve moved on, settled our portion of it, and hopefully the family will get some support for their ongoing needs.”

The Kleven family continues to pursue claims against two defendants — the City of Mishawaka and the owner of the shopping center where the retention pond is located.