Family of man found buried in Long Beach yard settles wrongful death lawsuit

A Long Beach resident accused of leaving a 31-year-old man to die in a bathtub and then burying his body has settled a wrongful-death lawsuit brought by the deceased man’s family, according to their attorney.

Zach Kennedy’s father, mother and siblings sued 54-year-old Scott Leo in April, alleging he neglected to call 911 as Kennedy was overdosing. Instead, Leo hid Kennedy’s body and lied to police who came looking for him, the suit alleged.

Kennedy’s family spent more than six months searching for him before detectives unearthed his body behind Leo’s home in 2018.

“That is unforgivable,” the family’s attorney, Karen Gold, said Tuesday. “And no amount of money will make that OK.”

Gold declined to say how much the lawsuit settled for. Leo represented himself in the case, but his homeowners insurance policy ultimately ended up footing the bill for the settlement, she said.

Scott Leo’s home on the 500 block of West Eighth Street where Zach Kennedy’s buried body was found in 2018. Photo by Thomas R. Cordova.

An attorney for the insurance company did not immediately return a call, and Leo, who is in jail awaiting trial on criminal charges, could not be reached.

Gold said Kennedy’s family filed the lawsuit earlier this year in part to put pressure on authorities to move forward with a criminal case against Leo.

At that point, in April, it had been almost two years since Kennedy’s body was found in Leo’s yard, and prosecutors were still weighing what, if any, charges to file.

“I don’t think anything short of a criminal conviction will bring justice to this family,” Gold said.

Ultimately, prosecutors in August charged Leo with murder, something his criminal defense attorney has balked at, arguing it’s just an attempt to strong-arm Leo into pleading guilty to a lesser charge of manslaughter.

“It’s a drug overdose. They know it is,” Leo’s attorney, Matthew Kaestner, previously said. He contends Leo panicked and didn’t call 911 because he was afraid—but that’s not murder.

Conversely, Gold and Kennedy’s father have painted Leo as a predator who provided drugs to a young man struggling with addiction.

For years, a father pressed for justice; now the lurid details of his son’s death are a trial issue

They said filing the lawsuit earlier this year was a way to draw attention to the situation, to make Leo pay, and to urge anyone with a drug addiction to flee from people like Leo and seek help instead.

“If I can save one life out of all the efforts I’ve done over the last three years, that means more to me than money or anything,” said Kennedy’s father, Jeff, who spearheaded the search for his son when he disappeared in 2017.

Leo’s next criminal court hearing is scheduled for December.

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Jeremiah Dobruck is the breaking news editor for the Long Beach Post. He began his journalism career in 2007 as an intern at Palos Verdes Peninsula News and has worked for The Forum Newsgroup in New York City, the Daily Pilot and the Press-Telegram. He lives in Torrance with his wife, Lindsey, and their two young children.
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