As Naya Rivera’s family awaits formal approval of a newly announced wrongful death settlement that will go to her son, the Glee star’s dad says the 6-year-old boy continues to show great resilience after losing his mom in a July 2020 drowning on a California lake.
Speaking to Rolling Stone on Tuesday, George Rivera says that while accepting his daughter’s death remains a daily struggle for him, the family remains focused on the welfare of her only child, Josey Hollis Dorsey.
“He’s a great kid. He’s as rambunctious as any 6-year-old,” George Rivera says. “[He’s] happy, healthy and smart. Sometimes too smart, but that runs in the family.”
The proud grandfather describes Josey as an energetic first-grade student who’s “heavy into Batman and Legos,” but also as someone still navigating life 20 months after his mom boosted him into their rental boat on Lake Piru in Ventura County, California, and then disappeared under the surface.
“He has got the most incredibly loving and stable individuals around him,” he says, praising Josey’s dad Ryan Dorsey, his daughter’s ex-husband, as well as Josey’s aunt Nickayla Rivera, Naya’s sister. “Nickayla has given up the last year and a half to be there to help out. We’re making sure we’re managing this young man in terms of his feelings and thoughts. We’re all learning how to cope and having professionals help with that, too. He’s coping with it pretty well. Everybody grieves in their own way.”
The 65-year-old grandfather then turns to himself, sharing his own struggle to accept the loss of his daughter: “Me as a father, I’ll never get over it. I’m haunted every day. How do you cope with the loss of a child? It doesn’t matter if the child is 33 or 12. It never goes away.”
The new settlement in the wrongful death case, which surfaced this week, will be the subject of a hearing set for March 16. If approved, it will resolve the lawsuit filed in November 2020 that claimed Ventura County officials could have prevented the accidental death if the boat had been equipped with safety equipment such as an “accessible ladder,” rope, an anchor, a radio, and flotation devices.
In a statement to Rolling Stone, Amjad Khan, the lawyer representing Josey Dorsey and the Estate of Naya Rivera, confirmed the “global settlement” but declined to give the size of the financial award.
“Through this settlement, Josey will receive just compensation for having to endure the drowning of his beloved mother at Lake Piru. Though the tragic loss of Josey’s mother can never truly be overcome, we are very pleased that the monetary settlement will significantly assist Josey with his life beyond this tragedy,” Khan said.
Naya Rivera, 33, became the subject of a desperate search operation on July 8, 2020, after her son, who was four years old at the time, was found drifting alone on the lake in a rented boat.
After a five-day search that involved divers, helicopters, drone aircraft, and cadaver dogs, the body of the actress best known for playing Santana Lopez on Glee between 2009 and 2015 was recovered in a northeastern portion of the lake, officials said.
Ventura County Sheriff Bill Ayub said at the time that investigators determined Rivera and her son were swimming together alone before the tragedy.
“Her son described being helped into the boat by Naya, who boosted him onto the deck from behind,” Ayub said. “He told investigators that he looked back and saw her disappear under the surface of the water.”
Ayub said the lake’s strong currents likely played a role: “The idea perhaps being that the boat started drifting, it was unanchored. And that she mustered enough energy to get her son back onto the boat, but not enough to save herself.”
The Ventura County Medical Examiner ruled the death an accident, saying there was no evidence that disease, drugs, alcohol, or traumatic injury played any role.