Dad Sues Government Over Boys’ Deaths in Flathead Reservation Canal

By Beacon Staff

HELENA — The father of two boys who died in an irrigation canal on the Flathead Indian Reservation in 2010 is suing the U.S. government for not providing safeguards and warnings against the dangers of the waterway near a public campsite.

Harry Beauchamp, Jr., filed the civil lawsuit in May on behalf of his deceased sons, Harry Beauchamp III and Dennis Beauchamp, claiming wrongful death and negligence

The Dry Creek Canal is part of the Flathead Indian Irrigation Project, which is held in trust by the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Timothy Cavan responded to the lawsuit Monday denying the allegations, saying the deaths were caused by people or entities who are not part of the government and the boys themselves acted negligently.

The lawsuit says the Wolf Point family was camping near Twin Lakes southeast of St. Ignatius in 2010 when Dennis, 8; Harry, 15; and Harry’s girlfriend took the family van to hike and take pictures. They stopped on a service road south of St. Mary’s Lake and hiked to the nearby Dry Creek Canal.

Dennis walked halfway across a footbridge to take a picture of his brother and girlfriend, when he slipped and fell into the water, the lawsuit says. Harry, knowing his brother couldn’t swim, jumped in after him.

They were swept downstream by 30 mph waters, unable to get out of the steep, concrete-lined canal. Harry’s girlfriend chased after them along the banks, then went back to the campsite to report what happened.

The boys were recovered several miles downstream, and efforts to resuscitate them at a hospital failed.

The metal footbridge crossing the canal had no fences or gates blocking access and no warning signs, the boys’ father said in his lawsuit. The canal and footbridge are “an attractive nuisance” that can draw children from the nearby campsites, he claims.

The government and the managers of the irrigation project should have constructed the canal and footbridge safely and taken precautions to minimize the danger and warn of the risks, he claims.

Cavan, in his response, said what Beauchamp calls a footbridge is actually a hydrology access structure that is not intended to be used as a crossing, though he acknowledges there were no fences or gates blocking it.

The government denies all claims, saying any alleged injuries were caused by the acts or omission of other parties that are not agencies or employees of the U.S. government. The filing does not name any other parties.

The boys themselves were negligent, and their negligence was the cause of any injury or damaged, Cavan said.

He asked a federal judge to dismiss the lawsuit.

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