Susan Moriaty, 22, of Fairfax a lifeguard this summer, was counting on using her summer job salary to help pay medical school tuition at the University of Virginia.
Art Rich, 163, of Springfield, another lifeguard, was counting on his salary to pay for a Vermont ski trip.
Julie Stover, 17, lifeguard, of Vienna, a third was depositing her salary in her savings account, keeping the money for college, when in July one of her paychecks bounced.
The three are part of a group of about 40 young lifeguards from the Washington area who lost between $300 and $500 of their summer's earinings because the swimming pool management company they worked for went broke.
"When the cash flow ends, there is only one way to go and that is down the tube," said Alex Y. Mutch of the Virginia Department of Labor, who is handling the lifeguards' claims against Culco Aquatics Inc. of Alexandria.
Culco declared itself bankrupt last week in a federal court and, according to Mutch, "the only alternative these youngsters have is to file with the court, become secured creditors and hope there are enough assets to pay them off."
While the lifeguards have lamented their loss of about one-third of the summer's earnings, many of their parents through bureaucracy, trying to get their childrens' money and getting angry in the process.
"Obviously, I'm outraged," said Harold Stover of Vienna, whose daughter Julie received a pay check at all for her last two week's work as a lifeguard at the Tysons Corner Ramada Inn.
Stover said he has spent about 20 hours and $40 in phone calls trying to reach the state Department of Labor, attorneys for Culco, Fairfax and Arlington counties, and Virginia Attorney General J. Marshall Coleman. Stover said Coleman, a personal friend, promised to look into the matter.
Bradley Evans, an Alexandria attorney appointed by the court to collect and distribute Culco's assets, said lastweek he hopes to close Culco's case in six months, but that it may be a year before the lifeguards get paid anything.
John Cullinane Jr. president of Culco, could not be reached yesterday for comment on his firm's bankruptcy.
Culco, which, according to its advertisements, has been in business for more than 20 yearsM is not a "fly-by-night" operation, according to Mutch of the Virginial Department of Labor. "The company attempted to pay off its debts, but just didn't have the horse power to do it," he said.
The company, which contracts with hotels and apartment complexes to maintain swimming pools and provide lifeguards, is not the first firm in Northern Virginia to go broke and leave young summer employees "holding the bag" according to Mutch.
Nearly every summer, Mutch said, some area youths fail to get paid because their employer declares bankruptcy. Mutch said most of the business failures have affected fewer people than Culco's bankruptcy.
"You see, these kids are trusting. Their employer says hold off a little bit and I'll pay you. The kids do trust and they allow their employers to delay payment," Mutch said.
In the bankruptcy proceeding, according to attorney Evans, the lifeguard's wages will have high priority in the division of the company's assets among its creditors. Evans said he does not yet know if there is enough money to distribute among the lifeguards, whose claims total about $13,000.
Stover, who has been chasing after his daughter's money, said Culco's bankruptcy should "put all young people on their guard.
"Most of these kids are so anxious to get a job they'll take a job doing anything," he said. "Before they go to work they should carefully evaluate their chances of getting paid."