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Family, Friends Seeking Justice 1 Year After Death Of 13-Year-Old With Autism

EL DORADO COUNTY (CBS13) — The El Dorado County District Attorney is filing felony involuntary manslaughter charges against a teacher, administrators, and a school, in the death of a 13-year-old student living with autism.

That student, Max Benson, died after being physically restrained in class in November 2018.

Jennifer Abbanat is a friend of Benson's family. She has a framed photo of the teen on display in her own home.

"He still was just a little boy," Abbanat said.

She also has part of Benson's beloved treasure collection that the teen kept in a cigar box.

"Just pretty things, things that kinda shine," Abbanat said. "Here's a shell. He loved the beach."

Benson's family gave the box to Abbanat, who is a close friend and whose own son has autism.

"You send your kid to school expecting them to come home no matter how hard of a day they had, and unfortunately, that didn't happen for Max," Abbanat said.

READ: Company That Owned El Dorado Special Needs School Facing Involuntary Manslaughter Charge

The El Dorado County DA announced criminal charges are being filed against the boys' former school, Guiding Hands, and three staff members, almost a year after Benson died. The announcement brings Abbanat hope for justice.

"Responsibility is important," Abbanat said.

Before the criminal complaint was announced, Benson's mother described in a public letter what she has learned about her son's final moments. She says he died after his teacher and other staff pinned him face down by four limbs. One teacher sitting on him in a manner she described as cruel and punitive.

The family's attorney has also filed a civil lawsuit.

"There are people who had to make the decision, both to allow for these kinds of the things to happen, to encourage them," attorney Seth Goldstein said.

A tragic death of a child living with autism, at a school specializing in students with special needs. Benson never came home. Now a judge will decide if that was a crime.

"Getting justice for Max and really ensuring, that this never happens to another child," Abbanat said.

The Benson family is holding a vigil for Benson at the El Dorado DA's office this coming weekend.

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