17-year-old’s death at Lakeland Girls Academy ruled natural, no charges filed against leadership

Polk County

LAKELAND, Fla. (WFLA) – The Polk County Sheriff’s Office has closed the criminal case involving the spring 2020 death of a 17-year old girl at Lakeland Girls Academy, a faith-based residential boarding school that is part of the Teen Challenge system.

An autopsy by the medical examiner’s office found Naomi Wood, of Vermont, died a natural death from a seizure disorder, the death investigation report shows. No charges will be filed against the academy’s leadership, according to the state’s attorney’s office.

The report shows Wood had a “history of passing out and having seizures,” and became ill and started vomiting the night before she died on May 19, 2020.

“She’s been sick. She’s been in, like, she didn’t go to school today. She’s been in bed sick but has, like, rolled off of the bed and her lips are white and it doesn’t look like – her chest isn’t rising,” staff member Lauren Delfrate told a 911 dispatcher.

The dispatcher directed staff through chest compressions until first responders arrived.

A report from the Florida Department of Children and Families stated Wood had first complained of chronic stomach pains in April 2020. According to the report, rather than contacting a doctor, staff at the academy gave her Pepto Bismol 20 times as the symptoms persisted.

“Staff members made the child get up for meals and fed her soup, as that is their protocol when children
are sick. They also prayed for her to get better. Facility staff did not seek any medical attention for the child until she was found in her room unresponsive,” the report reads.

The DCF report included verified findings of “inadequate supervision and medical neglect” at the academy.

The sheriff’s office death investigation report does not mention reports of illness prior to May 18, 2020.

“We feel very strongly that they were negligent,” said Glenn Goldman, the attorney representing the Wood family. “They wouldn’t take her to a doctor or hospital.”

Goldman said he is in talks for a wrongful death case with a lawyer representing Lakeland Girls Academy. The lawyers and the Wood family are set to meet for mediation in Orlando in early December.

8 On Your Side has reached out to Dan and Holly Williams, executive directors of Lakeland Girls Academy, and lawyers representing the academy. We have not heard back.

In July, Williams made a brief statement to reporters outside his home.

“I’ve been advised by our organization that I can’t comment on anything. We have nothing to hide regarding that incident and we’re in full cooperation with all of the entities involved. I’m sorry that I can’t comment more on that,” said Williams.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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