$5M settlement over Maui deaths reached


POSTED: Saturday, September 19, 2009

LOUISVILLE, Ky. » A Kentucky doctor and her son have reached a $5 million settlement with the federal government over the deaths of her husband and 8-year-old daughter who were washed over a 184-foot waterfall in Haleakala National Park on Maui during a family vacation in 2003.

Dr. Holly Brown of Louisville and her 17-year-old son, Clayton, sued in 2004, claiming there should have been warning signs about flash floods in the park. Brown's husband, high school teacher Kevin Brown, and their daughter Elizabeth were washed over Makahiku Falls in Haleakala National Park.

The settlement was approved today by U.S. District Judge Charles Simpson. It includes $2.6 million in cash, with an additional $2.4 million paid in an annuity.

“;This is a step,”; said John Cox, the attorney for the Brown family. “;But I don't know if they'll ever recover emotionally from this.”;

Holly Bundock, a spokeswoman for the National Park Service's Pacific Division in Oakland, Calif., declined to say whether any changes were made at the park because of the accident. Bundock referred questions about the

settlement to the U.S. Attorney's Office in Louisville.

Naaman Horn, public information officer at Haleakala National Park, said yesterday that park staff was not authorized to discuss the case, and all communication has to go through the U.S. attorney.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Brady Miller said the office had no objection to the settlement and would forward it to the U.S. Justice Department for approval.

The deaths happened in the matter of a moment.

The vacationing Browns and their two children were hiking through Hawaii's parks. On the afternoon of April 10, 2003, they were on the Pipiwai Trail in Haleakala National Park.

Makahiku Falls, off an established path in the park, is considered a destination for tourists. The Browns took in the scenery at an overlook, then walked past the trail to the falls before opting to go back and hike down the falls.

An electronic sign with a

warning about rising water in the streams during high runoff times stood near the entrance to the trails. But on that day, the sign wasn't working.

The falls drain the entire Kipahulu Valley. The Palikea Stream flows for miles, then makes a hard turn and crosses beneath a rocky natural foot bridge before plummeting 184 feet at the falls.

Kevin Brown waded out, positioning himself facing downstream to help his family across the stream. He helped Elizabeth across rocks in the stream when both slipped. What they couldn't see, around an upstream bend, was a flash flood pouring their way.

“;They had no reason to think walking across those rocks was dangerous,”; Cox said. “;This wall of water came around the bend and got them.”;

Kevin Brown, 39, a chemistry teacher at Eastern High School in Louisville, turned upstream.

“;What's going on?”; he asked.

Then, a 6-foot wall of water pulled both Kevin and Elizabeth Brown headfirst over the precipice of Makahiku Falls.

Holly Brown and then-11-year-old Clayton Brown climbed up a rock directly behind them as the water rushed at their ankles and watched as the father and daughter disappeared.

“;I never saw them again,”; Holly Brown said in an affidavit. “;But for the help of my son Clayton, I probably would also have been a victim of the flash flood.”;

Four days of searching turned up neither body. The only item recovered was Elizabeth's bathing suit, which searchers found on a beach 1,000 yards north of Palikea Stream.

Park officials said there have been nine deaths at the falls since 1983.

The settlement does not require the government to admit wrongdoing or fault in the deaths.

“;It's just so, so awful,”; Cox said.


Star-Bulletin reporter Susan Essoyan contributed to this report.