In January, 1-year-old Joey Cosmillo wandered into the backyard and fell into the family pool. When his mother hauled him out, he wasn't breathing. Rescuers were able to bring him back to life, but he suffered severe brain damage and cannot walk, talk or even swallow.
Now, his family faces another burden: One of the rescuers, Casselberry police Sgt. Andrea Eichhorn, is suing, alleging the family left a puddle of water on the floor that afternoon, causing her to slip and fall.
The boy's grandparents, named in the suit, are mystified and angry.
"The loss we've suffered, and she's seeking money?" said Richard Cosmillo, 69, the boy's grandfather. "Of course there's going to be water in the house. He was sopping wet when we brought him in."
Eichhorn last week sued Richard Cosmillo; his wife, Maggie Cosmillo; and the boy's mother, Angela Cosmillo, accusing them of negligence. They were careless, according to the suit, and allowed the home they shared to become unsafe.
As a consequence, Eichhorn broke her knee, something that kept her off the job for two months, according to police Chief John Pavlis.
Joey now lives in a nursing home five miles away, where he gets 24-hour care. He breathes through one tube. He's fed through another.
"He doesn't have any abilities -- any," his grandmother said. "He can't sit. He can't swallow. He can't eat. We're not even sure he can see."
She and Richard Cosmillo are the boy's legal guardians. For the first two months after the accident, she remained at his bedside, never once going home.
She has now gone back to work at a furniture store, and her husband keeps watch on the boy. He visits every day.
"This thing," Maggie Cosmillo said, "has destroyed our lives forever."
The baby's mother was the only one home Jan. 9, when the boy slipped out of the house and wound up in the pool, according to a police report.
She plunged in and dragged him out, carrying him inside, down a hallway and into a bedroom. She also called 911.
Eichhorn arrived a few minutes later. As she stepped into the room where rescuers were working on the boy, she slipped and went down on one knee, then stood back up, according to Richard Cosmillo.
Later that day, she went to an emergency care center and eventually to an orthopedist, according to her attorney, David Heil.
While she was on medical leave, Pavlis said, the city's insurer paid her medical bills and provided disability checks.
Eichhorn, a 12-year department veteran, would not discuss the suit. Her attorney said those benefits, paid by the city's workers' compensation carrier, were not enough. The suit seeks an unspecified amount of money.
Eichhorn, he said, is a victim. Her knee aches, and she will likely develop arthritis.
If the Cosmillos had made their pool baby-proof, police would not have been called to the scene, there would have been no water on the floor, and Eichhorn would not have hurt herself, he said.
"It's a situation where the Cosmillos have caused these problems, brought them on themselves, then tried to play the victim," he said.
The department's personnel file on Eichhorn, who earns $48,000 a year, is filled with letters of praise. She has worked as a prostitution decoy and a hostage negotiator, and once wrestled a box of razor blades away from a person threatening suicide.
"She is the best sergeant within the police department and should become the next lieutenant," her supervisor wrote in a job review in 2003.
"Sgt. Eichhorn is a good officer," Pavlis said Tuesday.
He urged her not to file the lawsuit, he said, but there was nothing he could do.
The Cosmillos have not given the suit much attention, they say.
Richard Cosmillo is busy looking after Joey, whose name he had tattooed over his heart a few days after the accident, when doctors told the family the boy would survive only a few hours.
But Joey, now almost 23 months old, has survived. He can smile, and he appears to recognize music, his grandparents say. His grandfather hopes for much more.
"Joey is a Roman gladiator. He is an absolute warrior," Richard Cosmillo said. "There isn't anything or anyone in this world that I love as much as him."
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