Indianapolis Star/News, June 22, 1999

Ex-parks official says county was warned about pool where girl drowned

By Trinity Hartman and Diane Frederick

ALEXANDRIA, Ind. (June 22, 1999) — A former city official said she warned a year ago that the municipal pool in Beulah Park, where a 10-year-old girl drowned Monday, was unsafe.

An uncovered water circulation pipe at the public swimming pool is being blamed for the death of Harmony Tobin of Alexandria.

Harmony robin, 10, of Alexandria drowned Monday when she was caught in a 6-inch-wide pipe at the Beulah Park municipal pool diving board area.

The placement of the pipe was an obvious code violation, said Julianne Fletcher, former president of the Alexandria Park Board.

Harmony, a member of the Elwood YMCA swim team, died when she was caught in a 6-inch-wide pipe used to filter the water from the pool.

Most pipes used to pump water from pools and into filtration systems are flush with the wall or the bottom of the pool and have a protective grate covering them.

The uncovered pipe in the Alexandria pool projected from the side of the pool in the diving board area.

Fletcher said she saw the dangers of the open filtration system and complained a year ago to the Madison County Health Department, which is in charge of pool inspections. Fletcher said she was told the department didn’t have time to inspect it.

"I knew something was wrong," she said. "I knew it wasn’t safe. I never dreamed it was going to kill somebody."

Fletcher said she spoke with county health administrator Steve Ford last July and wrote a letter to the editor of the local paper in which she referred to "horribly obvious code violations" at the Alexandria pool.

Ford said Tuesday he didn’t recall Fletcher’s specific complaint.

But he conceded that a lack of funds and a cut in the department’s budget forced the department to suspend pool inspections last summer.

Ford said he has not visited the Alexandria pool in the past five years. The new filtration equipment went in three years ago to replace a leaking system. Ford said he has not inspected the new system.

"A person trusts that the municipal pools are inspected and safe," Harmony’s father, Brent Tobin, said.

Harmony left her brother Matthew’s birthday party Monday afternoon to swim at Beulah Park, Tobin said. Although there is a swimming pool at the family’s home, Tobin said, he often drove Harmony to the municipal pool so she could swim with friends.

A lifeguard and a fellow swimmer noticed Harmony was caught and tried to pull her from the pipe, but the water pressure made it impossible to save her. Firefighters eventually smashed the plastic pipe to free her, said Alexandria Police Detective Dennis Semon.

Initial police interviews show that no one witnessed how Harmony was caught by the pipe.

But she was heard telling another swimmer that she liked to feel her hair getting sucked into the pipe, Semon said.

Eight lifeguards were in the pool area at the time of the drowning. Police are investigating a report that none of them had a key to turn off the pump, which would have freed Harmony, Semon said.

The drowning is being treated as an accident, and no blame has been placed, said Madison County Coroner Marian Dunnichay.

While the drain was different from those at most other pools, Dunnichay said the accident should be a warning to parents:

They need to remind their children never to play near pool drains.

"All pools have drains; and the best advice we can give is that the pool is a fun place, but they need to stay away from a drain in any environment," Dunnichay said.

City officials said they’ve been told by the city attorney not to talk with the media until the investigation is complete. The pool and Beulah Park will remain closed.

"We’re trying to see if there’s anything else we could’ve done, but right now it’s just too early to tell," Semon said.

"Right now it’s just an accidental drowning." Tobin said officials should have thought of safety before his daughter’s death.

"If I had any idea a public pool could be unsafe like that, I wouldn’t let my child or any others go in it. This is so senseless to me. As far as I’m concerned, my little girl is dead because of negligence."

Harmony’s parents said it is too early for them to know whether they will file a lawsuit.


Indianapolis Star/News, June 22, 1999, Archive page 20





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