An investigation into the drowning of an Arizona high school student-athlete at a summer football camp has revealed that coaches didn't do a head count before leaving the lake where campers were swimming and noticed much later than previously thought that the student who drowned was missing.
Christopher Hampton was a 15-year-old freshman at Cesar Chavez High School and was participating in a football summer camp in the White Mountains at Lakeside Blue Ridge High School when he drowned at Show Low Lake on July 17.
Initially, authorities had said that the football coaches noticed Hampton was missing during a head count, but an investigation into the matter revealed that adults realized the teen was missing only after one of the boys' teammates told them he was nowhere to be found as they were all walking to go to bed.
Documents obtained by 12News show that a teammate notified Hampton's family that the was missing long before coaches and authorities notified them. The documents also revealed that head coach William Chipley knew that Hampton did not know how to swim.
The camp was meant to be a team-building experience for the 41 boys who were a part of the team.
"The idea of going to the lake was one the coaches decided on because it was an activity they had done in the past at other lakes," the document detailed.
Hampton drowned on the first day of camp after a day of training. The team had dinner and headed to the lake despite being told by the Blue Ridge High School athletic director that the boys shouldn't swim at Show Low Lake.
The Cesar Chavez athletic director told officers that his coaches told him the boys "would not be going swimming and would be going to a campsite." He also "cautioned the coaches and the team about swimming the lake due to the possibility of getting tangled up in the moss," the document said about the athletic director. The coaches allegedly told him they would "only get water up to their knees... and splash their feet."
The team arrived at Show Low Lake at 6:20 p.m. Coaches told the boys that it was not required that they get in the lake, but most did. Only about six of the players did not get in the water.
Some students began swimming to a buoy that was about 25 feet from the dock. One of those students was Christopher Hampton. A teammate who was with Hampton swam with him to the buoy and noted that "it did not seem very far."
"By the time we got to the buoy we were both exhausted and needed to rest," the teen told authorities. "Chris hugged the buoy while resting. After a few minutes, I told Chris I was going to swim back, and he said he wanted to rest a little more."
That was the last time Hampton was seen alive.
"By the time I got back to shore I was completely exhausted," the teammate said, noting that he and Hampton were basically "doggy paddling" out to the buoy.
"Based on the description of how the boys were swimming it appeared neither was a very good swimmer," the detective noted on the report. "For someone with little or poor swimming skills, it would be exhausting" to swim to the buoy.
According to News12, "While the 41 teens and coaches were at Show Low Lake, William Chipley, the former varsity football head coach at Cesar Chavez High School, left to get popsicles and drinks. When he got back, they all got out of the lake and walked up a path where the buses and vans they all traveled in were. They enjoyed their refreshments and left, records said.
The boys were supposed to have assigned seats in transport vehicles, but some of the students moved vehicles.
The report found coaches and teammates did not realize Hampton was missing until after 7:15 p.m. Coaches went back to look for the 15-year-old and "ended up calling law enforcement."
The incident report notes that while coaches said they were keeping an eye on the teens in the water, none of them could remember seeing Hampton enter the lake. A teammate called Hampton's brother to tell him Christopher was missing, and the family drove up to the lake and arrived around midnight.
After an extensive search, a dive team found Hampton's body on July 18 in the lake.
The Hampton family has filed a $50 million notice of claim agains the Phoenix Union High School District, William Chipley, the assistant principal of athletics at Ceasar Chavez High School, Leonard Doerfler, the City of Show Low, the Recreation Resource Management of Arizona, Arizona Game and Fish, and Blue Ridge Unified School District.
"Chris' death wasn't just a preventable one, it was caused by the gross negligence of the adults who were responsible of taking care of him," the notice of claim states. "It is difficult to imagine more careless behavior by adults tasked with ensuring the safety of minors, than herding them into a dangerous mountain lake with zero supervision and zero safety measures."
Hampton's death was deemed an accidental drowning. The case is now closed and no charges were filed.
The head coach and athletic director had their resignations accepted in September, the Phoenix Union High School District (PXU) told 12News.