Darren Craig Horton Jr.

Darren was a 3 year old born and raised Hamilton Township boy. He was said to like watching cartoons, playing video games and trucks. He had a beautiful loving family that included a sister, his loving parents, and grandparents.
Darren’s story caused a great amount of outrage because it did not have to happen. Darren was invited by a neighbor and friend to a public pool along with other children, where lifeguards were on duty. While Darren was swimming he started to struggle. A lifeguard standing just 20 feet away was distracted by talking to a girl. Other lifeguards would also be distracted not paying attention to the children in the pool. Darren continued to struggle for about 4 minutes with slashing going on all around him. No one would help him. He would drown.  A small boy ended up pulling Darren’s lifeless body to the side of the pool. The lifeguard still not doing his job continued to talk. It was not until another little boy pulled on his leg that he would realize what had happen. At the hospital Darren would be placed on a ventilator for four days before he died.

No picture was found of Darren Jr.

HAMILTON — Darren Craig Horton Jr., 3-year-old son of Ayanna Johnson and Darren Craig Horton passed away on Thursday at St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children in Philadelphia.

Born in Hamilton Township, Darren was a lifelong resident. He enjoyed watching cartoons, playing with trucks, and video games.

Predeceased by maternal great-grandfather, Seaman Smith Jr., maternal great- grandmother, Margaret Ann Ansley, maternal grandfather, Anthony Tyrell Smith, and paternal grandfather, Darren Saunders, surviving are his parents, Ayanna Johnson and Darren Craig Horton; a sister, Yolan Blessing Johnson; maternal great-grandparents, Pearlie Smith, Joy and Curtis Glover; maternal grandparents, Nekesia Johnson and Lisa Horton; three aunts, AyoFumi Carter, Ebony Horton, Shonda Wade; six uncles, Shiquise Blanch, Jabulani and Jeroma Carter, Anthony, Jarmar and Rayshaw Horton; and a host of great-aunts, uncles, cousins, a special aunt, Alfreda Dennis; and a special friend, Yolanda McRae.

Funeral services will be at 1:30 p.m. Tuesday at Campbell Funeral Chapel, 1225 Calhoun St., Trenton. Interment will be in Colonial Memorial Park. Calling hours will be from 12:30 to 1:30 p.m. Tuesday at the funeral chapel.


TRENTON — A surveillance video that recorded a 3-year-old drowning in a city pool last summer shows the child frantically flailing to stay above water while swimmers splash around him obliviously and a lifeguard chats with a girl at poolside some 20 feet away.

The harrowing black and white footage of little Darren Horton Jr.’s futile fight to stay afloat in the city-owned Roberto Clemente pool last July was released to The Times by an attorney who has filed a wrongful death suit against the city and its pool program on behalf of Horton’s mother.

“This is one of the worst examples of life-guarding I’ve ever seen,” said attorney James Curran. “A 3-year-old boy struggled for his life in a crowded pool with a lifeguard catching a rap with a girl less than 25 feet away from him.”

The little boy who was six months shy of his fourth birthday, survived on a ventilator for four days before he died.

The civil suit, recently filed in Mercer County Superior Court, charges the city, its pool administrators and the six lifeguards on-duty that day with negligence.

This suit is about the conscious pain and suffering Horton endured before he died, Curran said. “Here we have a 3-year-old child suffering in terror for his life, struggling to breathe for maybe five minutes before he died. That’s what this case is about.”

Pool rules require that every child younger than 11 years old be accompanied by an adult to the city’s public pools. Horton was at the Academy Street pool that day with a neighbor who had brought several children to swim, Curran said.

The video released to The Times is a condensed version of the panning footage recorded by the pool’s video camera. Its time stamp indicates that Horton struggled about four minutes before sinking to the bottom of the pool.

A 6-year-old cousin can then be seen fishing his limp body from the bottom. The scene plays out in front of an empty lifeguard stand.

Earlier in the video, Horton’s arms and legs flail wildly and his body bobs up and down in the water as a lifeguard sits across the pool under an umbrella talking with a girl sitting next to him.

The lifeguard has been identified by police as 23-year-old Reinaldo Lasalde, Curran said.

“He’s chatting with a girl in a bathing suit while the poor kid drowns,” he said. “He’s not even facing the shallow end of the pool.”

Mercer County prosecutors investigated the drowning and viewed the video but declined to file any criminal charges in the case.

“Was it negligence? Absolutely, 100 percent,” said Assistant Prosecutor Brian McCauley.

“He didn’t pay attention and the kid drowned. Does it rise to the level of a criminal act? We had no evidence to support that.”

The city legal department did not return a phone call seeking a comment on the lawsuit.

Curran said his investigation indicates that all the lifeguards on duty that day were properly certified by the American Red Cross but failed to follow even the most rudimentary standards of lifeguarding.

“They’re supposed to be sitting in an elevated chair scanning the pool constantly,” he said.

“The video indicates the lifeguards were not in the elevated chairs and none of the guards appeared to be paying attention to the shallow end of the pool at all. It’s an outrageous example of an unobserved drowning. At no time did any lifeguard see this kid struggling and try to save him.”

Curran said supervisors at the pool should have taken immediate steps to see that guards took their posts in the unoccupied elevated chairs.

“This was a system-wide, multi-level failure to properly monitor the pool,” he said.

The suit, which also charges the defendants with child endangerment, seeks unspecified punitive damages.

“I’m devastated by this loss,” said the child’s mother, Ayanna Johnson.

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