n January of 2017 it is alleged Toni Anderson, age 20, a college student from Wichita who had been living and working in Kansas City, was driving her car when she got disoriented and ended up in the Platte Landing Park in Parkville around 5 a.m. She mistakenly drove her car down the dark boat ramp in the park, entered the Missouri River and drowned.
Now, Toni Anderson’s biological parents, who are residents of Wisconsin, are suing the City of Parkville and Platte County for damages, listing the city and county as owners/and or controllers of the park and its boat ramp at the time, and describing the property as dangerous.
The legal action claims it was the city’s and county’s responsibility and obligation to properly design, construct, illuminate, maintain, repair, control, provide signage, barricade, warn and make the boat ramp safe for the public.
The boat ramp and park “were open to the public and were part of the county that was owned, designed and maintained by the defendants,” according to the lawsuit.
The lawsuit, filed more than a year ago on Jan. 14, 2020, is proceeding. It is being heard by Judge James Van Amburg.
Platte County is a party to the lawsuit since at the time of Anderson’s incident the county had ownership interest and was responsible for capital maintenance and replacement cost, in August of 2017–about five months after Anderson’s body was found–the county transferred ownership of 131 acres of land in the park to the City of Parkville.
In 2013, Platte County entered into an agreement with Parkville under which the city took on all daily operation, maintenance and programming responsibility of the park.
The lawsuit alleges the claims arise out of a single car vehicle wreck “caused by the dangerous condition of the defendants’ property.”
“The breach of duties by the defendants caused or contributed to cause Toni to drive into the Missouri River and drown,” according to the court filing.
Toni Anderson was the subject of a missing person investigation conducted by the Kansas City Missouri Police Department which spanned 54 days, from Jan. 15, 2017 to the time her vehicle and body were discovered in the Missouri River on March 10, 2017.
Anderson was last seen alive in the early morning hours of Jan. 15 in North Kansas City, about seven miles east of where her vehicle was eventually discovered.
The North Kansas City Police Department said an officer pulled Anderson over in the 2600 block of Burlington for improper lane usage. The officer gave her a verbal warning before letting her go. He did not observe anything concerning to him the night of her disappearance, NKC police told The Landmark in 2017.
This encounter between that NKC police officer and Anderson likely explains why the City of North Kansas City is also listed as a defendant in the lawsuit.
The discovery of her vehicle was initially made by Team Watters Sonar Search & Recovery, a non-profit organization based out of Illinois. The Anderson family had reached out to the renowned organization with the hope of finding answers to Toni’s mysterious disappearance.
Authorities had told media at the time that a signal from Toni’s cell phone was last detected in the area of English Landing Park at Parkville. Absent of more substantive evidence, officials thought perhaps her final cell phone signal was from across the river in Kansas City, Kan.
The Anderson family and detectives decided her last cell phone ping would serve as a good enough guide to search the river banks in Parkville.
Team Watters Sonar began the underwater search on Wednesday, March 8, 2017. By the afternoon, they had detected two large masses, just feet from the boat ramp in Platte Landing Park, adjacent to English Landing Park.
But two days passed before a dive team from the Missouri State Highway Patrol and the Kansas City Police Department could begin the process of extracting Anderson’s 2012 black Ford Focus from the river.
Officials told The Landmark at the time that the vehicle had become entangled in a large ball of roots from a tree along the bank.
The lawsuit alleges the city and county breached their duty of care in designing the boat ramp, maintaining it, designing the transition between the parking lot and roadway with the boat ramp; maintaining that transition; failing to warn that the ramp “is a boat ramp that ends in the Missouri River;” in failing to warn motorists they are entering a boat ramp; failure to provide and install proper signage and other warnings; failure to have a barricade; failure to have proper lighting so that motorists driving at night can see they are entering a boat ramp leading into the river; failure to provide adequate warnings and protections to motorists.
“The boat ramp was not reasonably safe and constituted a dangerous condition of property,” the petition alleges, and defendant’s negligence showed “reckless and willful indifference” to the safety of others.
At time of construction, the boat ramp was explained to the public as being for the purposes of Homeland Security. Documents show the boat ramp was funded by the Fy2011 Port Security Grant Program.
A letter to the Platte County commissioners from the Mid-America Regional Council on Sept. 6, 2017 describes the key purposes of the boat ramp and access to the boat ramp are “to deploy maritime assets to protect and respond to events involving critical infrastructure and waterway incidents” and to “increase access to the Missouri River for emergency responders.”
The lawsuit seeks compensatory damages in excess of $25,000, for punitive damages for the aggravating circumstances and should be considered “by the trier of fact because defendants showed a conscious disregard for the health, safety and welfare of decedent Toni Anderson and others.”