Lookout Update: Family of Aptos High stabbing victim files lawsuit against PVUSD, high school officials

The vigil in Watsonville Sunday featured photos of the 17-year old Aptos High student.
A vigil in Watsonville last September featured photos of the 17-year-old student who died after being stabbed on the Aptos High School campus.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

Almost one year after a 17-year-old student died after being stabbed at Aptos High School, the family has filed a lawsuit against the Pajaro Valley Unified School District and Aptos High officials, alleging negligence and wrongful death.

The family of the Aptos High School student who was fatally stabbed on school grounds last August accused the Pajaro Valley Unified School District of negligence and wrongful death in a lawsuit filed Thursday afternoon in a Santa Cruz court.

A sig for Lookout Update on the Aptos High stabbing death

The 17-year-old victim, referred to as G.S., was attacked by two students on Aug. 31, and pronounced dead later that night at a Salinas hospital.

“By way of this lawsuit, Plaintiffs seek to hold accountable PVUSD and its employees for flagrantly disregarding the duties of care owed to [G.S.] and to other students, ultimately costing [G.S.] his life,” the family’s attorney, Charles “Tony” Piccuta, wrote in the document. “The lawsuit also aims to curb a troubling increase in violence — and administrators’ and staff members’ failures and refusals to prevent such violence — both at AHS and other schools within the Pajaro Valley Unified School District.”

The lawsuit, which was expected after the family filed a formal complaint in December, was filed against the district and several individuals, including Superintendent Michelle Rodriguez, former Aptos High Principal Peggy Pughe, Aptos High Vice Principal Katie Kriscunas and campus supervisors Jonathan Flores, Fonsella Guzman and George Vasquez.

The suit mirrors those claims filed by the parents of the victim and the sister of the victim in saying the district failed to keep the victim and other students safe by removing school resource officers from campus in July 2020 and by failing to address several safety concerns.

After students returned to campus — following a year of remote learning amid the COVID-19 pandemic — in August 2021, Aptos High School saw an increase in incidents of violence among students, according to the lawsuit. One of the incidents involved a 14-year-old student referred to in court documents as K.O. The student attacked another student with a knife and officials failed to notify law enforcement, the lawsuit claims.

School officials were also aware of a lack of video surveillance on campus at a time when, the lawsuit alleges, there was inadequate supervision of students.

On Aug. 31, K.O. and another student approached G.S. after school while the sister of G.S., Alexa Sarabia Aguilar, was on her way to the school to pick him up. The students attacked G.S. and K.O. stabbed G.S., the suit details.

When Sarabia Aguilar arrived at the school, she saw her brother stumbling down toward her and she ran to his side. She called 911 and didn’t see any supervisors near until eventually a parent appeared and she told them to get help. Dispatchers from 911 helped her give medical attention to her brother, it says.

About five minutes later, two school staff members arrived, according to the lawsuit. One staff member left and another stayed to handle the crowd. One to two minutes later, a school nurse arrived and didn’t initially offer help, the lawsuit says. All this time, Sarabia Aguilar continued to take instructions from 911 dispatchers to help her brother.

Sarabia Aguilar then asked the nurse to speak with dispatchers and to help provide care to her brother. The lawsuit says the nurse took the phone and told Sarabia Aguilar to lay her brother flat but didn’t provide more assistance beyond those instructions.

Eventually officers arrived and took over providing care to her brother. An ambulance arrived and moved G.S. to a nearby field, from which he was airlifted to Natividad Medical Center in Salinas. He died there later that night from his injuries.

The lawsuit accuses the defendants of negligence, breach of mandatory duties to report, wrongful death and negligent infliction of emotional distress.

The family is asking the court for judgment in their favor. While it doesn’t make a specific money demand, it asks for attorneys’ fees, compensatory damages and punitive damages against the defendants. The suit also asks for injunctive relief against the district to order it to comply with reporting requirements under the Child Abuse and Neglect Reporting Act.

The court set an initial case management conference for Nov. 7 at the Santa Cruz County Superior Court, according to Piccuta. He said the defendants will be served by the court and then have to respond to the lawsuit.

PVUSD spokesperson Alicia Jimenez said as of Friday afternoon the district had not yet been served with the lawsuit. Once district officials receive the lawsuit, it will work with legal counsel on next steps.

“As this is a litigation matter, the District cannot comment further on this case other than to offer our sincere sympathies to the family,” officials said in a statement.

Follow Lookout on social media