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N4T Investigators: Poor response?

TUCSON – A grieving father says his son’s death was preventable. He claims his child’s school handled the situation poorly. And he’s taking legal action.

Seventeen-year-old Isaac Gonzales was wheelchair-bound since he was an infant. Isaac had a rare genetic disorder called, Angelman syndrome. Isaac couldn’t walk or talk and was fed through a tube in his stomach. But people with the condition live a nearly normal lifespan. Isaac was in his special needs classroom, when according to the Tucson Fire Department report, he fell unconscious.

The News 4 Tucson Investigators have obtained the 911 call the school made. A woman at the school told the dispatcher, “I have a student here that’s wheelchair-bound and he is pale and has a very low heartbeat. And we need to have him checked, he never does this, he looks very bad.”

Issac was taken to Banner-University Medical Center. His father says Isaac “was 95 percent brain dead” and the family had him taken off a ventilator nine days later. The medical examiner’s report says the cause of death was “complications of Angelman syndrome” and “The manner of death is natural.”

Isaac’s father, Basilio, said, “My son, he couldn’t speak, so I’m his voice. Since my son wasn’t special to them…they had no care in the world. “

Mr. Gonzales believes there are contradictions between the 911 call, what he was told by a school administrator, and the official reports. He says the administrator told him that Isaac was found on the floor. He believes his son was being fed by his teacher and was at some point left alone. The hospital report says Isaac was “blue in the face” after the incident, and Mr. Gonzales believes that’s because he choked.

The hospital report says Isaac, “apparently fell on the floor” at school. Mr. Gonzales said Isaac was always supposed to be strapped in his wheelchair, and wonders how he could have fallen out. Also, the fire department report says the school nurse told paramedics she gave Isaac “two rescue breaths”. But the 911 transcript that Basilio gave us has no mention of CPR being done.

“The 911 call tells us everything,” Mr. Gonzales said.

The Sunnyside School District declined an interview, citing privacy laws, but provided this statement:

“News Channel 4 has provided the district administration with Mr. Basilio Gonzales’s assertions against the district and its staff. We reiterate our condolences to the family and express our sorrow due to the passing of one of our students. Federal privacy laws limit the district from providing a more complete factual rebuttal to Mr. Gonzales’s assertions regarding his son’s death. However, anyone seeking to know the actual cause of death should refer to the Pima County Office of the Medical Examiner’s autopsy report of September 10, 2019. Furthermore, the district emphatically denies Mr. Gonzales’s allegations that Isaac was left alone, that he was choking while eating, that he fell out of his wheelchair, or that the district’s dedicated staff acted negligently.  Finally, district staff and officials followed EMT personnel to the hospital, and remained there in a supportive role out of compassion and concern for both their student and the family.”

Isaac’s dad says his lawsuit is not about money. He wants cameras in all special needs classrooms. That’s not required by the state but Sunnyside voluntarily has cameras, as the News 4 Tucson Investigators reported three years ago. The district’s spokesperson told us there wasn’t a camera in Isaac’s classroom. But again, the district strongly denies any wrongdoing.

Mr. Gonzales said, “The main outcome that I want to come out of this is to make sure that the kids have a voice and have something to protect them.”

Mr. Gonzales’ lawsuit has not been filed yet. His attorney did not return our call.

If you have a story you’d like us to investigate, email us at investigators@kvoa.com or call our tip line at 520- 955-4444.

Matthew Schwartz

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