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Drowning victim's dad says changes made at YMCA

July 07, 1999|By DAN KULIN /Staff Writer

Lloyd Pearson, whose 7-year-old daughter drowned in a swimming pool at the Hagerstown YMCA in September 1997, said he has been told that the YMCA has since fixed a problem with a telephone near the pool and put an elevated lifeguard chair at the pool.

YMCA Executive Director Michael Flicek said this week that because of a pending civil suit filed in the death of Kari Trumpower he would not discuss what, if any, changes have been made at the YMCA since the accident.

Flicek refused to say whether changes have been made to a telephone beside the pool so that it directly connects to an outside line.

At the time of the accident, lifeguards could not immediately figure out how to call 911 from that telephone, according to the police report that was released to the media on Friday.

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To make a call from the phone, it was necessary to first dial a 9 to access an outside line, according to the police report.

The lifeguards did not know that, and printed instructions posted next to the telephone directed a caller to dial 911 in an emergency, rather than to dial 9 and then 911, according to the police report.

Flicek also would not say whether the YMCA installed an elevated chair for lifeguards following the accident.

Pearson said one of his lawyers told him of the changes at the YMCA at 49 N. Potomac St.

Kari's parents, Pearson and Karen Trumpower, have filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the YMCA of Hagerstown and Girls Inc. of Washington County, the group with which Kari had gone to the pool on Sept. 11, 1997, the day she drowned.

The lawsuit is scheduled for trial in Washington County Circuit Court on Sept. 27.

The lawsuit alleges that Kari's death was the result of negligence on the part of Girls Inc. and the YMCA.

Girls Inc. is a private, nonprofit group that has been in Hagerstown for 50 years. About 250 girls between the ages of 5 and 18 are club members.

The police report

On the day she drowned, Kari was in a smaller and shallower pool at the YMCA with a group of girls who, like Kari, did not know how to swim.

Later those girls were asked to leave the smaller pool to make room for a swimming class.

Some of the girls, including Kari, went to the larger, deeper pool with a Girls Inc. chaperone. Some of the girls were fitted with flotation devices called "bubbles" but Kari was not, according to the police report.

"While the chaperons were placing flotation devices on the girls it appeared (Kari) entered the pool unnoticed," the police report states.

As the girls were leaving the pool, a lifeguard saw Kari lying on the bottom in water estimated to be between 7 and 8 feet deep.

Lifeguards and rescue personnel revived Kari by using CPR, but the child never regained consciousness. Six days later her parents authorized doctors to turn off life-support equipment.

The State Medical Examiner's Office in Baltimore listed Kari's death as an accidental drowning.

The lawsuit

The lawsuit seeks $1.5 million for each of four counts plus attorneys fees and court costs.

The defense response to the complaints included a claim that the plaintiffs had assumed the risk of the activity and that the victims waived their rights in the matter.

Joseph A. Miklasz, a lawyer representing Kari's mother, said that even though the lawsuit seeks a total of $6 million, state limits on wrongful death lawsuits would limit any monetary award in this case to about $1.5 million from Girls Inc. and the YMCA together because the two have been joined for this case.

Maureen Grove, executive director of Girls Inc., declined to talk about the accident because of the pending lawsuit.

Girls Inc. suspended its weekly swimming outings at the YMCA immediately after the accident, and has not resumed them.

Grove said the decision not to go to the YMCA for swimming last fall had nothing to do with the accident.

"The next fall we just had so many other programs it didn't fit in our schedule," Grove said.

She said that typically trips to the YMCA pool is a fall activity. During the summer, the organization takes girls to the City of Hagerstown's Potterfield Pool as part of the group's summer camp.

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