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St. Paul Ignored Obvious Warnings Before Landslide that Killed Two Kids

Mohamed Fofana and Haysem Sani were buried under tons of shale, sand, and water during a school field trip

Mohamed Fofana and Haysem Sani were buried under tons of shale, sand, and water during a school field trip

More information about the 2013 landslide that killed two children in St. Paul's Lilydale Park continues to leak out, despite Mayor Chris Coleman's best efforts to hold it back.

Documents just released under a Freedom of Information request filed last spring show that yet another geologist disagreed with the city's arguments that the landslide was the result of "natural," unpredictable causes.

See also: How Mayor Coleman's City Hall Tried to Spin the Deaths of Two Children

The Coleman administration continues to make that claim despite paying out a record $1 million settlement to families of the deceased children and other fourth-grade fossil-hunters from St. Louis Park's Peter Hobart Elementary.

But an analysis by University of Minnesota professor Otto Strack, commissioned by the plaintiffs, cited evidence compiled by the city's own investigators to argue that Parks & Recreation staff had been "cavalier" in ignoring repeated warning signs of the bluff's instability.

The problems dated all the way back to the 1970s, when St. Paul took over control of the area from the Twin City Brickyards. The city permitted fossil hunting and ice climbing in gouged-out clay pits without addressing the dangers.

Mayor Chris Coleman spent $200,000 on an "independent investigation" seemingly designed to let St. Paul avoid any responsibility

Mayor Chris Coleman spent $200,000 on an "independent investigation" seemingly designed to let St. Paul avoid any responsibility

"There is no acknowledgment among those responsible for the park that the clay pits are man-made and pose a significant risk to fossil hunters and other visitors," Strack wrote.

He was particularly alarmed by a 2011 landslide, about 50 yards from the fatal 2013 event, as evidence that the city ignored the obvious. "Rather than examining the danger that should have been abundantly clear from the slide, emails and comments indicate a total lack of realistic and responsible assessment of the danger."

In 2009, the city's own natural resources consultant recommended a full analysis of Lilydale's bluffs and ravines. Parks staff decided to hold off, citing the $10,000-$12,000 pricetag.

Public release of Strack's critique came after another scientist's analysis of the landslide also saw light through Freedom of Information requests.

DNR geologist Carrie Jennings was called onsite that day to help with rescue efforts. She immediately saw evidence of man-made sources in the tragedy. Her analysis focused on a recently "unplugged" stormwater culvert in nearby Cherokee Park, which sent water directly into the ravine where the children died. Jennings believed the water eroded the bluff, leading to its collapse.

But Jennings was never interviewed as part of the city's $200,000 "independent investigation." St. Paul negotiated a deal with lawyer Donald Lewis, the lead investigator, seemingly designed to avoid culpability. Lewis was barred from determining any liability or cause in the landslide. The deal also avoided examination of any employee's role in the incident.

Still, this didn't stop St. Paul from using Lewis's report to exonerate itself.