WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) – A Wichita mom is fighting for a change in the Kansas legal system after she said her teenage son was left to die in a pool.
“It was the end of the world because you never think that you would bury your own child, it’s usually children burying their parents,” said Velarie Wallace.
Velerie Wallace lost her son, Phillip Harris, on July 1, 2016.
“It was just heartbreaking, just unbelievable,” Wallace said.
Wichita police said Harris, 17, and three girls went for a late-night swim at the Horizons East Apartments. Police said a maintenance worker found Harris at the bottom of the pool in the early morning of July 1. They told KSN at the time, the three girls Harris went swimming with never called 911, even after they found his dead body, because they were scared.
“It was hurtful to me because I have a 4-year-old that sometimes when we play because I have diabetes, and when we play he will say I need to call 911 for mom if something happens, so even at 4 years old he knows. It’s just the values of morals and the thing to do,” Wallace said. “It would have been the right thing to do, to call 911, even if they left him, call the cops to let someone know that he was there,” Wallace said.
Wichita police said the three girls were later charged with trespassing in the case. Wallace, however, believes they should have been held responsible for her son’s death.
“I think as human beings you should value other people’s lives. Do the right thing to help. This being the summer time, this could possibly happen to someone else,” she said.
KSN asked a Wichita criminal defense lawyer about rescue laws in the State of Kansas. While the lawyer would not speak directly to the Harris case, he did give KSN insight into state law.
“Generally in the United States, the law regulated actions and codes or morality regulate the less clear area of omissions to act, so generally in Kansas there is no legal duty to rescue or render aid to someone imperil,” said Criminal Defense Lawyer and KSN Legal Expert Dan Monnat.
Monnat said there is not a civil or criminal law in Kansas stating someone must help another person in distress. He said, however, there are circumstances including special relationships, like parent to child, and cases related to car crashes where a legal duty is created.
“For instance, the criminal law of the State of Kansas requires a person operating a motor vehicle involved in an automobile accident involving death, injury or damage to render reasonable assistance which may include carrying an injured person to the doctor or hospital,” Monnat said.
While Wallace said she understands the law, she said she wants to change it. The mom of five is now pushing to add a law making it so people must render aid no matter the circumstance. She said her ultimate goal is to prevent another person from losing their life, the way her son did.
“I made him a promise until the day that I go to my grave, I am going to see that law changed. I’m going to see it changed and I think he’s smiling down saying ‘Go mom, go mom, I know you can do it,'” Wallace said.
Wallace said she’s in the beginning stages of talking with local law enforcement about how to move forward with the petition to change the law. She said she’d like to have her plan to the senate by the next legislative session.
Harris was about to begin at Job Corps, before he died. Wallace said he wanted to be an engineer.