Report says city girl's drowning was accidental

September 26, 1997


Staff Writer

The Hagerstown Police Department Thursday closed its investigation into an accident at the YMCA, ruling that the death of a 7-year-old Hagerstown girl was an accidental drowning.

Police ruled out any criminal violation of the law in the death of Kari Trumpower. They declined, however, to elaborate on the details of the incident, and Police Chief Dale J. Jones said authorities would not release the report to the media.

"We've done our job and looked at what we needed to look at, and we're closing the case," he said.

Police said the report will be given to the family of the girl, YMCA officials and officials at Girls Inc., the after-school group that sponsored a swimming activity the day of the accident.


Kari Trumpower was one of a number of young members of Girls Inc. who participated in a regular swimming event at the YMCA on Sept. 11. At about 4:45 p.m., according to police, swimmers at a smaller pool were moved to the large pool when a YMCA class began.

While Girls Inc. chaperones outfitted the girls with flotation devices, a lifeguard saw Kari Trumpower underneath at least four feet of water and dove in to pull her out, according to police.

Medics rushed Trumpower to Washington County Hospital. She was taken to Johns Hopkins Medical Center in Baltimore later that day. Her parents authorized doctors to remove her from life-support systems the following week.

Representatives of Trumpower's family criticized police on Tuesday for a slow response to requests for information.

"I don't think it's quick," said Thomas Granger, who works for Glen Burnie, Md., attorney Joseph A. Miklasz.

Granger said fundamental questions remain unanswered.

"How was a little child allowed to go unnoticed from the kiddie pool to the main pool? How is that allowed to happen?" he said.

Police, YMCA and Girls Inc. officials have not provided information about the accident, including how many girls from the organization were swimming that day and how many lifeguards were on duty.

Meanwhile, the Hagerstown accident has registered with other YMCAs in the Tri-State area.

Cascade resident Bob Scalese said his son almost drowned at the Waynesboro, Pa., YMCA within a day or two of the Hagerstown accident.

A lifeguard noticed the 8-year-old struggling while a YMCA swimming team was swimming laps and jumped in after him, Scalese said. He said his boy does not swim well and mistakenly was placed with the team.

Reading that a girl about the same age had died jolted him, Scalese said.

"It hit us very hard. We experienced a very similar situation. It left me shaky the whole week," he said. "I don't think people going into the YMCA think they are going to be in a hazard. You assume everything is safe."

Dick Marks, executive director of the Waynesboro YMCA, said he did know about the incident. But he stressed the staff's commitment to safety and said the Hagerstown accident serves as a tragic reminder.

To drive that point home, he said he distributed copies of newspaper articles to each staff member.

"This ought to be a wake-up call to any parent or anyone with grandchildren," Marks said.

Marks said he was surprised to learn recently that two adult YMCA members cannot swim.

While there have been no serious accidents during his 22-year tenure, Marks said the YMCA constantly looks for ways to improve safety. The Hagerstown accident prompted officials to re-evaluate designs for an office the Waynesboro YMCA is renovating, he said.

Marks said officials want to arrange office furniture to provide maximum visibility of the pool through a window that looks out onto the pool.

"The more eyes, the better," he said.

Directors of YMCAs in Franklin County, Pa, and Frederick, Md., said they always provide lifeguards for outside groups.

Michael Flicek, the executive director of the Hagerstown YMCA, said the organization sometimes allows groups to substitute their own certified lifeguards. He would not say whether that was the case on the day of the accident.

"We always use our own. We'll allow people to supplement ours," said Dave Matthews, executive director of the Chambersburg, Pa., YMCA.

Richard Tokar, president and CEO of the Frederick County YMCA, said the Hagerstown accident did not spark changes, but he added that officials constantly review policies and procedures.

"We're very safety-conscious," he said.

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