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Prosecutors will not file charges related to drowning of a 3-year-old boy at Smugglers' Notch

A wooden gavel on a table with a blurry bookshelf in the background.
Law enforcement officials won’t file any criminal charges related to the death of 3-year-old Tate Holtzman, who drowned in an underground water tank this summer at Smugglers' Notch ski resort.

Prosecutors will not file any criminal charges related to the death of a 3-year-old boy who drowned this summer at Smuggers' Notch ski resort. The attorney for the child’s parents said on Tuesday they’re considering pursuing civil litigation.

According to a press release from Vermont State Police, Tate Holtzman, who was enrolled at a daycare program Smugglers' Notch, fell into an underground water storage tank near an outdoor splash pad. Holtzman was walking, with adult supervision, when he stepped on an unsecured cover to a water tank, which gave way, police say.

Teenage lifeguards were “immediately notified” and went into the tank to try to find Holtzman. Police said the lifeguards’ attempts to save Holtman were “heroic” and done at “extraordinary personal risk.” None of the lifeguards were injured, police say.

The Chief Medical Examiner’s Office ruled Holtzman’s death an accident.

Vermont State Police presented its investigation to the Lamoille County State’s Attorney’s Office which determined that no criminal charges would be filed.

In a written statement, Tate Holtzman’s parents, Jennifer and Zachary Holtzman, of Cambridge, said they were “beyond devastated” by their son’s death.

“Tate was the love of our lives, a very special young soul full of compassion, kindness, curiosity, creativity, and adventure,” the Holtzmans said in the statement. “He was our only child — and like both of us, he loved to ski, ride his bike, and canoe.”

“He, and our entire family, also love Smugglers’ Notch, which is why we live locally,” the statement continued. “While Jen works at the local elementary school in Jeffersonville, Zach was actually an employee of Smugglers’ Notch leading up to and at the time of the incident. We are both deeply proud to be a part of this incredibly supportive community.”

The family is considering legal action against Smugglers' Notch and the manufacturer of the water tank cover, said Jennifer Denker, an attorney with Boston-based law firm Meehan, Boyle, Black & Bogdanow, who is representing the family.

“This was a preventable tragedy caused by an incredibly dangerous product lacking certain available safety features, made all the more dangerous by its improper installation and lack of warnings,” Denker said in a phone interview on Tuesday. “The failures in this case were profound, and ultimately fatal.”

Denker said the Holtzmans are hoping to reach a resolution without having to file a formal lawsuit.

Smugglers' Notch did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The Community News Service reported that the Vermont Department of Labor this fall fined the resort more than $21,850 for safety violations related to the water tank.

According to state police, the Department for Children and Families, which oversees licensed daycare providers, is also conducting an investigation of the incident.

Have questions, comments or tips? Send us a message or contact reporter Liam Elder-Connors:


Liam is Vermont Public’s public safety reporter, focusing on law enforcement, courts and the prison system.
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