Archive for Friday, December 31, 1999


December 31, 1999


A Lawrence couple has been named in a lawsuit stemming from a November 1997 mercury spill that closed Perry-Lecompton schools for two days.

The Perry-Lecompton school district and its insurance company are suing a Lawrence couple for $13,200, claiming they negligently gave mercury to their son, who then took it to the district's high school two years ago.

The spill at Perry-Lecompton High School forced the district to close all schools Nov. 13 and Nov. 14, 1997. Mercury was found in a men's bathroom and a women's bathroom and in an automobile at the school, but district officials closed all schools because they were afraid the high school's kitchen was contaminated. Meals served in all of the district's seven schools are cooked there.

The lawsuit, filed Wednesday afternoon in Douglas County District Court, names Lawrence residents Janet and Curtis Kastl, the parents of the junior who brought the mercury to school.

The district's offices and schools were closed for winter break Thursday, and Supt. Henry Murphy and then-principal Bill Wealthall were unavailable for comment.

The Kastls are not listed in Lawrence telephone directories.

Billy E. Newman, the Topeka attorney handling the case for the school district, said the district's insurance company, EMC Insurance of Wichita, paid for the cleanup, but the district had to pay the deductible.

The district's contract with EMC Insurance requires the district to pursue reimbursement from the party responsible for damages, Newman said. EMC Insurance tried to get reimbursed from the Kastl's insurance company and Newman's law firm sent a "demand letter" to the family.

"It's not unusual, and this isn't against the family for something the son did, but rather something the parents did," Newman said. "Mercury, as you know, is a hazardous material that causes a number of medical problems."

In the lawsuit, the district alleges the Kastls bought a box of items, including the mercury, at a garage sale in November 1997. They gave the mercury to their son, who "played" with it at a friend's house before taking it to the high school, according to the lawsuit. The court document also says the Kastls knew their son took it to school, and that he dumped it in a bathroom trash can to avoid being caught with it.

The lawsuit claims the Kastls were negligent for giving a hazardous material to their son.

In addition to the $13,200 cleanup costs, the district seeks attorney fees and court costs from the Kastls.

Capt. Jim King, one of three hazardous materials specialists with Lawrence-Douglas County Fire & Medical, said any mercury spills larger than a broken thermometer must be handled by a company with special air monitors. HAZ-MAT Response Inc. of Olathe cleaned the school.

"Mercury is poisonous and is readily absorbed through the skin," King said. "It affects the central nervous system."

The student received a long-term suspension from the district.

-- Chris Koger's phone message number is 832-7126. His e-mail address is

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