Child mourned, D.C. Council member will hold hearings on pool safety

Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, June 25, 2010

A D.C. Council member announced plans on Thursday to hold special hearings on the safety of city pools as police continued to investigate Wednesday's death of a child swimming at Turkey Thicket Recreation Center in Northeast.

Yiana-Michelle Ballard, 6, was found unconscious at the rec center's crowded indoor pool about 2:20 p.m., officials said. She had been swimming with her family. Lifeguards tried to resuscitate her, but she was later pronounced dead at Children's National Medical Center. Police said Thursday that their special-victims unit was still investigating the circumstances of the death. Autopsy results were pending.

"This should have never happened," said D.C. Council member Harry Thomas Jr. (D-Ward 5), who chairs the Committee on Libraries, Parks and Recreation. "We are doing everything that needs to be done to make sure that this doesn't happen again."

Thomas said he plans to hold hearings next week to examine whether the city's pools are safe. He said he is consulting with officials from the American Red Cross to review pool safety procedures and might introduce emergency legislation to address the issue.

John A. Stokes, spokesman for the D.C. Department of Parks and Recreation, said that the pool was reopened Thursday but that the case is still under investigation.

"The proper safety measures were in place and the lifeguards were on duty," Stokes said. He said that at least three lifeguards were on duty at the time of the incident and that the pool met the required ratio of one lifeguard for every 50 swimmers. "Safety is a major priority at all of our facilities," he said.

Some parents of children who frequent the center's camps and other programs said the incident was troubling, especially because at least one lifeguard was there at the time.

"I'm having difficulty understanding how a tragedy like this could have occurred," said Doug Ellis, 52, whose son attends a triathlon training program there.

A steady stream of visitors climbed the steps of the child's red brick rowhouse in Northeast on Thursday. Family members declined to comment.

Friends and neighbors said Yiana-Michelle was "loving" and a "little angel" who was the youngest of six and about to start first grade.

"She was loved by many people," said family friend Arnisha Caldwell, who was at the home Thursday.

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