A Connecticut pool contractor who has been charged with manslaughter in the death of a young boy allegedly knew about construction code changes that very likely would have prevented the boy's death, according to an arrest affidavit.
John Romano, of the board of the Association of Pool and Spa Professional with Shoreline Pools President David Lionetti says that he and Lionetti discussed the code changes which included the installation of an anti-entrapment system at the pool's drain according to the affidavit. Romano, the President of All American Pools, says he and Lionetti spoke about the changes by phone in October 2005, the affidavit says. Six year-old Zachary Cohn drowned last summer in Greenwich, CT after becoming trapped by the suction of the drain in his family's pool, which Lionetti had installed the year before. The code changes required anti-entrapment devices to be installed on all pools constructed after 2004.
Lionetti was arraigned in Stamford Superior Court yesterday and the case has been continued to August 12th. Lionetti did not enter a plea.
Safety experts conclude that had a vacuum release system been installed in the pool, as was required by the code, belonging to the Brian and Karen Cohn, the suction of the pool pump would have broken and Zachary would have been able to swim away. Instead his parents struggled to free the boy from the drain before shutting power off to the pump and releasing him only after it was too late.
The Cohns have also filed a civil suit against Lionetti claiming that he should have known of the dangers of a potentially fatal entrapment from an uncovered suction drain. Zachary was able to unscrew the drain cover, but had the vacuum-release system been installed the suction would have been broken.
"These type of drowning deaths can happen very quickly and even the most responsible parent cannot watch a child every minute," says Rep. Debbie Wasserman Shultz (D-Fl). "That's why we need safety measures to protect children when parents aren't around or when supervision lapses."
Wasserman Shultz introduced the Virginia Graeme Baker Pool and Spa Safety Act in Congress in 2007. The act was eventually signed into law by President Bush and takes effect on December 19th of this year. The act requires that pools with single drains be equipped with two layers of safety an approved drain cover minimizing chances of entrapment and a vacuum release system. According to Wasserman Shultz, however the pool industry has opposed the most important safety measure in favor of backyard aesthetics.
"While the pool industry has shown support for increasing some safety provisions, they remain opposed to requiring perhaps the most important safety measure, four-sided isolation fencing that keeps small children from accidentally falling into the water," she said.
An accident of this type happened yesterday in Pembroke Pines, FL when a one-year-old girl drowned in a backyard pool. According to Sgt. Brian Davis of the police department the preliminary investigation reveals her grandfather Alejandro Rodriguez, who was watching the young girl had fallen asleep in the house.
Alan Korn, spokesman for Safe Kids Worldwide says a fence around the pool is the best barrier to prevent these types of drowning incidents. "It would have been much more difficult for this little girl to get into the pool with four-sided isolation fencing," Korn said.
In a statement from Bill Weber, President and CEO of the Association of Pool & Spa Professionals he claims the industry doesn't oppose any barrier options however, "Four-sided fencing has never been shown to be a cure all panacea." Weber believes the safety measures in the Baker act are better tailored to protect children from drowning. "There is no 'one size fits all' safety method and none are foolproof without adult supervision," Weber said.
Kyle Gassiott is a 2008 Carnegie Fellow at ABC News. He is currently a graduate student in journalism at the University of Iowa.