July 8, 2002 -- Julia Mendoza came home from work Friday afternoon, and found three little boys, dead in her pool.
"I called 911 and tried to get one out and I went back inside," Mendoza said. "I didn't know what to do, and when I came back out again, I realized that there were two more down at the bottom."
It turned out the boys were her next-door neighbors: 9-year-old James Metelus and his brothers: 7-year-old Jon Paul, and 4-year-old Ocnel. They somehow made it past a six-foot-high fence to get to the pool. Police in Fort Pierce, Fla. say the drowning was an accident.
A similar accident led to the death of the granddaughter of former Secretary of State James Baker last month. Seven-year-old Virginia Baker got caught in the drain of a friend's whirlpool, and drowned.
Other tragedies include the drowning of a 4-year-old boy at a pool party at rocker Tommy Lee's Malibu mansion last summer. Plus, there was the incident with a 7-year-old who disappeared at a pool party in Los Angeles last month. Two days later, he was found dead at the bottom of the same pool.
A Common Tragedy
Drowning is the number two cause of unintentional death among children, with more than 1,500 children killed in water accidents every year.
"People have to understand that owning a pool is a tremendous responsibility," Dr. Flaura Winston of Children's Hospital of Pennsylvania told Good Morning America. "Having a pool party requires extra attention. Parents need to watch the pool and watch children."
Within minutes of falling into a pool, a child can begin getting less oxygen to the brain. Within four to six minutes of falling in, they can have irreversible brain damage.
In the last week at Winston's hospital, seven children have been brought in after drownings or near-drownings.
Parents should escort their children to pool parties, and supervise them once there, or take turns doing so with the other adults, Winston said. Toddlers should remain within arm's length of adults when they are close to water.
Some pool owners get alarms for their pool, so that they are alerted inside the house whenever someone is in the water.
Water Safety for Children
The American Red Cross offers the following advice:
Do not leave children unattended near water, no matter how shallow the water, or what their swimming ability is. Maintain "reach" supervision for children in the water, meaning they should be within arm's reach in case of emergency.
Install a phone by the pool or keep a cordless phone nearby so that you can call 911 or your local emergency number in an emergency.
Learn Red Cross CPR and insist that babysitters, grandparents, and others who care for your child know CPR. Post the CPR instructions and 911 or your local emergency number in the pool area.
Enclose the pool completely with a self-locking, self-closing fence with vertical bars. Never leave furniture near the fence that would enable a child to climb over the fence. Openings in the fence should be no more than 4 inches wide. If the house is part of the barrier, the doors leading from the house to the pool should remain locked and be protected with an alarm that produces sounds when the door is unexpectedly opened.
Keep toys away from the pool when it is not in use. Toys can attract young children into the pool.
Pool covers should always be completely removed prior to pool use.
Visit www.redcross.org for more information on summer safety.