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Father lashes out at YMCA following pool accident

September 18, 1997

By GUY FLETCHER

and LAURA ERNDE

Staff Writers

The father of a 7-year-old girl who died after an accident at a YMCA pool in Hagerstown said Thursday he wants the Y's executive director to resign, and wants a memorial placed at the pool "to let lifeguards know that kids can die."

Lloyd Pearson said he wants Michael Flicek's resignation, a memorial to his daughter, and he wants to be assured that changes have been made so that the pools are safe and no one else will have to face what he is going through.

Kari Trumpower was found in from 4 to 8 feet of water in the pool of the North Potomac Street YMCA on Sept. 11. She never regained consciousness and died Wednesday after doctors at Johns Hopkins Medical Center in Baltimore removed her from life support.

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Her mother, Karen Trumpower, and Pearson, have questions about the pool accident, but say they aren't getting many answers.

"I still don't know anything. The only thing I know about is hearsay," Trumpower said.

Hagerstown City Police, while maintaining there is no evidence of criminal activity, said they will not release the incident report until their investigation is complete.

The Herald-Mail has filed a Freedom of Information Act request for the report.

Hagerstown YMCA Executive Director Michael Flicek would not comment on the incident or on Pearson's call for his resignation.

An investigator representing Kari's family said he was not allowed to see where the accident occurred. A Herald-Mail reporter who asked to see the pool area Thursday was turned away.

"Why the coverup? What do they have to hide?" asked Pearson.

"You tell to your kids you don't want them playing in the streets because of gangs and whatnot. What safer environment can you put them in than the children's programs at the YMCA?" said Pearson, 41, a construction foreman from Waynesboro, Pa.

Pearson, who had visitation with his daughter every other weekend, described Kari Trumpower as a happy child who preferred crafts to sports. She also had dolls and kittens that shared the same name - Sarah.

"Everything that was dear to her was called Sarah," he said.

Kari feared water, her parents said.

"She didn't even like it when I washed her hair," said Trumpower, 29, of Hagerstown.

She said her daughter was aware of the dangers of the deep end of a swimming pool, recalling the times she took Kari to public pools and Hagerstown and Halfway.

"She said, `I can't swim Mommy. I'm staying over here in the little part,'" Trumpower said.

Trumpower said that when she signed her daughter up with Girls Inc. earlier this month, she indicated on an information card that Kari could not swim.

When she dropped off Kari at the pool on Sept. 11, it was only her daughter's second trip.

"She was really looking forward to going to the pool, and for her never to come home. I just never in my wildest dreams imagined I would see her in the hospital in the condition she was in," Trumpower said.

According to a press release issued earlier this week by Hagerstown City Police, Kari Trumpower was part of a Girls Inc. outing, and the club members were divided between a deep pool and a shallow pool based on swimming ability.

When another class arrived at about 4:45 p.m. to use the shallow pool, the girls were moved to the deeper pool, police said. Somehow, Kari slipped by chaperones who were placing flotation devices on the girls, police said.

The small pool is 3 to 4 1/2 feet deep and the large pool, which is in a separate room, is 3 to 10 feet deep, Flicek has said.

A lifeguard dove in the pool after seeing the girl under 4 to 8 feet of water, police said.

How the girl managed to get into deep water without anyone seeing her remains a mystery.

"My daughter was struggling for her life and there was no one there," Pearson said through tears.

Officials won't say how many lifeguards were on duty and whether they were employed by the YMCA or by Girls Inc.

After a lifeguard pulled Kari from the water, she was taken to Washington County Hospital and later moved to Johns Hopkins Medical Center in Baltimore.

She was declared brain dead Wednesday morning and later in the day doctors shut down Kari's life-support systems.

"I actually watched her die in my arms," Preston said.

Kari's family has hired a lawyer, but they said they did so because they need legal expertise to get answers to their questions about what happened.

"No amount of money in the world is going to replace my daughter," Pearson said.

He believes there are people - YMCA officials, Girls Inc., chaperones and others - who know the real story but are being quiet because they feel at least partly responsible for the accident.

"I hate pointing my finger at people, but what can I do?" Pearson said.

The YMCA is insured for liability by The Hartford, and company spokesman Ray Winter said it has started its investigation into the accident. He said he did not know how long the investigation would take.

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