Tommy Lee took the stand in his own defense in Santa Monica on Tuesday in the wrongful death suit brought against him by the parents of a boy who drowned in his Malibu pool in July 2001.
Accused of negligence, the rocker repeatedly placed the responsibility for the children on the guardians who accompanied them to his son Brandon's birthday party. "If [the kids] were alone, it would be my problem. They weren't," he testified, according to wire service reports. Lee said he did everything he could to ensure the safety of the children who came to his home. He testified that his aim in building the pool was to make it "child-friendly."
Lee recounted the day's events, telling jurors he was stationed by the pool when he heard someone scream as she literally tripped over the boy. "I was about 10 feet to 12 feet away, sitting by a table right by the shallow end. I heard [a guest] scream. I saw her pulling Daniel [Karven-Veres] out of the water. I panicked and proceeded to call 911."
In the 911 call, Lee can be heard telling a dispatcher, "We just found [Daniel] in the pool. There's a big pool party here, and no one was paying attention for a minute."
Karven-Veres' parents are seeking at least $1 million in damages as well as reimbursement for medical care and funeral expenses (see "Parents Call Child's Death At Tommy Lee's Home 'Inexcusable' "). They allege that Lee failed to have the pool supervised by a lifeguard and had no one available with life-saving or first aid skills.
They also claim that the lack of supervision stemmed from poor planning, as the party was hurriedly organized and held to compete with a birthday party thrown by Pamela Anderson a week earlier. Only one life jacket was available, they claim, and it was given to Lee's youngest son, Dylan.
"This is totally reckless disregard," attorney Thomas Girardi said in his opening argument against Lee. "[This was] an absolutely stupid way these little 4-year-old children came over to his house. ... There [was] nobody watching these kids. These guys are drinking beer and having a good old time. This is not a party for 4-year-olds."
"Mr. Lee did not say he was going to have a lifeguard to look after the children," Lee's attorney, Jim Barrata, countered. "Like any other party, the children are being supervised by the adults who brought them. ... This was not a drinking party. ... This was not some sort of crazy Hollywood party. This was a children's party. ... Mr. Lee invited people who had children."
The party included a magician, a petting zoo and a Buzz Lightyear-costumed character to entertain the children, Barrata said. The main beverages served were soda and fruit drinks, with just one six-pack of beer on hand and no hard liquor available. He said he'd be calling police to the stand to testify that no adults showed signs of intoxication.
Daniel's mother, German actress Ursula Karven, cried in court when she testified that her son would be 6 years old this week. She said she had no idea her son was going to a pool party when she sent him off with his male caretaker, a German exchange student named Christian Weihs. Daniel couldn't swim, Karven testified, and didn't take his water wings with him.
Lee testified that the nanny for his two sons let guests know he was having a pool party, and that it was "not a drop-off party." "Caregivers and parents were in charge of overseeing the pool," he testified.
The tragedy occurred after Daniel's baby sitter decided to leave the party to go to a Wango Tango concert and left Daniel in the care of another family's nanny, Judith Zeihm. Barrata said witnesses would testify that after the drowning, Zeihm said, "I'm responsible for him. Oh my God, I'm in so much trouble!"
A Los Angeles Superior Court judge rejected Lee's bid to have Zeihm named as a co-defendant in January, due to lack of evidence. The German caregiver has disappeared and will not be a witness. However, the Veres camp is considering calling Pamela Anderson to the stand to counter Lee's testimony. The actress has alleged in the past that Lee is not a sound father.
The Los Angeles County coroner ruled Daniel Karven-Veres' death accidental, and no criminal charges were filed against Lee (see "Child's Death At Tommy Lee's Home Ruled An Accident").