Boathouse Club LLC, the company behind the Boathouse & Field Club — an exclusive, members-only recreational club in Edgartown — was charged and pleaded guilty to corporate involuntary manslaughter caused by wanton or reckless conduct in the 2021 drowning death of a 3-year-old boy, Henry Bowman Backer.
The club agreed to pay $100,000, and to five years’ probation. The club is not allowed to have any camps with water-related activities for kids under 6 as a condition of probation. Scott Anderson, the club’s general manager, was in the courtroom on behalf of the club.
Henry’s parents were not in the Dukes County Superior Court on Friday, but provided an emotional victim impact statement via video. The family will donate the $100,000 to the American Red Cross to provide lifeguard training on Martha’s Vineyard, Nantucket, and Cape Cod.
In a statement issued after the case concluded in court, Cape and Islands District Attorney Michael O’Keefe said, “The criminal justice system is inadequate to deal with the pain and anguish of the loss of a child, but it can bring a measure of justice. I hope it has done so for Henry.”
A State Police investigation led by Trooper Dustin Shaw found that Henry was “neglected by staff at the Boathouse Field Club,” a court document states. Edgartown District Court Clerk Magistrate Liza Williamson found probable cause to charge the club with corporate involuntary manslaughter.
According to a court document, Henry was scheduled for an 11:15 am “Kids Club” at the club and was brought into the pool area with other children. “After a series of acts and failures to act on the part of several employees of the boathouse, by approximately 11:33 am Henry was discovered floating face-down to the right of the lifeguard chair,” a court document states. “He was pulled from the water unresponsive, and attempts to resuscitate him were unsuccessful.”
Henry was taken to Martha’s Vineyard Hospital and airlifted to Children’s Hospital in Boston, where he was pronounced dead, according to a court document. An autopsy ruled the death a drowning. No individual employees are named, which is why the Boathouse & Field Club is charged.
Corporate involuntary manslaughter was used in the 2007 case involving roof tiles falling from a tunnel in the Big Dig project in Boston, a $15 billion highway and tunnel project. In that case Powers Fasteners paid $16 million to settle the criminal charge, as well as civil action taken against the company.
Michael Trudeau, senior prosecutor for Cape and Islands District Attorney Michael O’Keefe, was at the courthouse — a rare visit to the Island for the DA office’s top prosecutor.
Superior Court Judge Mark Gildea presided over court proceedings.
In a synopsis of facts and events that led up to the drowning, Cape and Islands Assistant District Attorney Elizabeth Sweeney told the court that Henry, who didn’t know how to swim, was left unmonitored in a pool without floaties he was supposed to be wearing. Sweeney said a Field Club staffer told a State Police investigator it was the 3-year-old’s responsibility to put on the floaties.
The victim impact video provided by Henry’s parents showed a vibrant boy enjoying a number of activities with his parents. One clip in particular showed him playing a Beatles song on a keyboard with narration by his mother describing how much he loved “A Hard Day’s Night.” Henry’s parents expressed how much joy he brought to their family, and how much he loved his baby sister. Henry’s parents made it clear Henry’s death wasn’t an accident but a crime. Their video pointed out the Field Club cut off communication with them shortly after Henry’s death, and no apology was ever issued.
Judge Gildea described what happened to Henry as a “horror story,” and asked all those present in the courtroom to stand for a moment of silence.
Speaking to general manager Anderson and directors of the Field Club, who were in the audience, Judge Gildea confessed he didn’t know about the Field Club prior to presiding over the case. He made note of its website, and language on it that describes “exceptional … and unparalleled service to its members, [and] their families.” Judge Gildea said the service the website “touts,” as the victim impact video “shows clearly,” didn’t happen on July 26, 2021, when Henry drowned.
David Apfel, attorney for the the Field Club, told the court the parents’ video was “heart-wrenching.”
Apfel said the Field Club and its management were “deeply sorry.” Apfel said one of the directors of the Field Club had a granddaughter in the water with Henry the day he drowned, and that it could have been she who suffered that fate. Apfel acknowledged that words of remorse, however genuine, do little to offset the “gigantic loss” of Henry, which Apfel further acknowledged wasn’t only gigantic but “permanent.”
Judge Gildea warned Apfel and Anderson that the Field Club would be in violation of its probation if any of its lawyers, members, directors, officers, or agents, or those of affiliated companies, contradicted publicly the Field Club’s acceptance of responsibility and the statement of facts it accepted as true in the courtroom.
The Boathouse & Field Club is located off Katama Road.
On the club’s website, it is billed as “a private members club on Martha’s Vineyard that offers exceptional recreational amenities and unparalleled service to its members, their families, and guests.” According to the site, the club opened in 2008.
“Become part of a club that cherishes families’ precious times together … where shared experiences and exceptional recreation will be ensured for present and future generations,” the site states.
In light of the forthcoming Red Cross donation, Judge Gildea expressed thanks to Henry’s parents for their “selfless acts in giving back to the community and in honoring Henry’s memory.”
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly listed board of directors for the Field Club. That 2018 listing from the Secretary of State’s office refers to the homeowner’s association and not the Boathouse & Field Club.