'She Died in My Arms': A Mother's Mission for Safe Pools

ABC News investigation finds many hotel and public pools with dangerous drains.

ByABC News
July 22, 2008, 6:43 PM

July 23, 2008— -- Despite a new federal law that takes effect later this year, an ABC News undercover investigation found many hotels and public pools across the country have yet to install safety drain covers and shut-off valves designed to prevent children from being trapped underwater by the powerful suction of pool filter systems.

Many of the drain covers inspected by ABC News in pools across the country are "death traps," according to Paul Pennington, spokesman for the Pool Safety Consortium, an industry group, and president of a company that manufactures anti-entrapment systems.

In December 2007, Congress passed the Virginia Graeme Baker Pool & Spa Safety Act to provide basic safety standards for the nation's public pools. However, ABC News found that the drains of nearly three-quarters of sampled public pools throughout the country are still not safe. The new legislation requires all public pools to install the devices by December 20 or face fines up to $1.3 million.

The new law is named after Virginia Graeme Baker, the granddaughter of former Secretary of State James Baker, and was pushed through Congress after her death in 2002.

The 7-year old girl died in the arms of her mother, after sitting on the underwater floor drain of a hot tub connected to a friend's pool.

"I kept pulling at her, never understanding what was holding her down and I couldn't pull her off," said her mother, Nancy Baker. "I opened my eyes underwater and there aren't words to describe what this is like," she said.

The suction pressure holding her daughter down was later estimated at 700 pounds, she said.

"I really wish it wasn't my daughter. But when she died it moved from the back pages of the newspaper to the front pages of the newspaper," Baker said.

Baker told ABC News it took all the political clout of her distinguished father-in-law and five years of lobbying effort to overcome pool industry resistance to a law requiring dome-shaped drain covers and pump valve releases. The dome shape prevents a child's body from creating a kind of vacuum seal.