Judge Ruled for Wrongful Death Law Suit for Parents of Student Shot and Killed by Resource Officer
Trevor Varinecz was shot and killed by Marcus Rhodes, a resource officer at the 16-year-old’s school district, in 2009. According to court documents, Varinecz had a form of autism, and had become increasingly depressed. He attacked Rhodes with a bayonet as a way of committing suicide which lead to a wrongful death lawsuit.
Varinecz’s parents filed a wrongful death lawsuit for their child, and on Thursday, January 3rd, a judge ruled in their favor for a $175,000 settlement. The agreement was approved in November, although police and school officials admit no wrongdoing. Rhodes was dismissed from the lawsuit shortly before the settlement was reached, so he will not be held personally liable for any of the settlement money.
His parents also sued Rhodes and the Horry County School District, because they believe poor treatment of children with special needs led Varinecz to commit suicide.
The money will come from the S.C. Insurance Reserve Fund, a state agency that provides insurance to government entities such as schools.
Wrongful Death Lawsuit Uncovers Possible Neglect and Bullying
16-year-old Varinecz suffered from Asperger’s Syndrome, a form of autism that causes children and adults to be unable to navigate everyday social situations. This syndrome means that children with Asperger’s are often bullied in school, causing depression and further emotional problems.
Varinecz’s parents claimed in their wrongful death lawsuit that the school district was negligent, because it did not provide resource officers like Rhodes with the proper training to handle emotionally disturbed children. Not only did Rhodes not have the proper training, he carried only a gun, rather than a stun gun or pepper spray, to defend himself against potential violent outbursts. Since the incident, resource officers in Horry County’s schools have pepper spray and stun guns instead of guns, but Varinecz’s parents say that is not enough to prevent pain and suffering for both children and parents in the district.
Children with emotional problems are also supposed to be shadowed by school district personnel who monitor special needs children, and help prevent bullying and harassment when during social interactions. This helps create a stable, predictable environment for disturbed children, allowing them to more easily navigate the world of school. According to court documents, Varinecz was supposed to receive 900 minutes per week, but the school cut that down to 45 minutes per week without informing the parents. Without the help, Varinecz was exposed to unpredictable social interactions, which most likely caused him to spiral into depression.
On the day of the shooting, Varinecz asked his teacher if he could visit Rhodes, and Rhodes agreed to shut the door to his office. Once alone in the office, Varinecz reportedly said that there was a large spider behind Rhodes, and while the resource officer was distracted, the student pulled out a bayonet and attempted to stab Rhodes. The student began shouting, “I have no reason to live,” and “Just shoot me.” After Rhodes drew his gun, according to court documents, “Rather than lessening the conflict, Varinecz then became even more difficult to contain … Rhodes felt he was losing control and decided to shoot Varinecz in his arm.”
Rhodes fired 10 times, hitting the boy 5 times.
The Strom Law Firm Can Help with Personal Injury Lawsuits, Including Wrongful Death
The South Carolina wrongful death lawyers at the Strom Law Firm understand how hard losing a loved one is. We believe those who contributed to your loved one’s death should be held responsible. If your loved one died because of another’s negligence, we can help you. Call us the Strom Law Firm today or fill out web form for a free evaluation. 803.252.4800.