Judge: Officials destroyed evidence in boy's death at Northern California park

SACRAMENTO — The National Park Service purposely destroyed evidence in the wrongful death case of a 9-year-old boy who was crushed by a retaining wall in a Northern California park, a federal magistrate judge said.

Magistrate Judge Gregory G. Hollows ruled Wednesday that Park Service officials intentionally demolished the retaining wall before investigators could examine it. As punishment, he recommended that the judge overseeing the case formally find the Park Service negligent in Tommy Botell's death. Such a finding by U.S. District Judge Garland Burrell would give a big boost to the Botell family's lawsuit.

Hollows' findings are not binding, and the final decision rests with Burrell.

Still, the magistrate was unstinting in his rebuke of the Park Service's handling of the case. He rejected the government's arguments that workers knocked down what remained of the wall shortly after the July 29, 2009, accident in Lassen Volcanic National Park because they felt it posed a danger to other hikers.

The magistrate said there was no need to destroy the wall because "there is no doubt that the scene of the accident, i.e., the remaining part of the wall, was important for investigative purposes."

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