The 7-year-old granddaughter of former secretary of state James A. Baker III died when she became trapped in a whirlpool and drowned in McLean, Fairfax County police said yesterday.
Virginia Graham Baker of McLean was playing with other children in a friend's whirlpool on Alps Drive during a graduation party Saturday when she accidentally got caught in the pool's drain. She was stuck underwater and was unable to free herself, police said.
A family member found her, and it took two adults to dislodge her, authorities said. Several people who were at the party then tried to revive the girl, who was taken by helicopter to Inova Fairfax Hospital and pronounced dead.
Virginia was the daughter of James A. Baker IV, who is the son of the former cabinet secretary. The elder Baker was treasury secretary and chief of staff under President Ronald Reagan and secretary of state under former President George Bush. He also played a prominent role in the Florida recount for the current president.
Baker and his son are partners in the law firm of Baker Botts, which has offices in Washington and in the elder Baker's home town of Houston.
Reached at their McLean home yesterday, the Baker family declined to comment. A representative for the elder Baker at his law firm said family members were unreachable as they made funeral preparations yesterday evening in Virginia.
Safety experts said yesterday that whirlpool drains have caused nearly two dozen deaths in the United States over the past 20 years.
According to the Bethesda-based Consumer Product Safety Commission, the risks are largely from older-model drains that do not employ suggested safety measures, such as a secondary drain or a specialized cover.
In some cases, children who are trying to hold their breath underwater get pulled in and can't get out.
"Most deaths from hot tubs and spas are drowning deaths that aren't related to entanglements or getting trapped," said Mark Ross, a spokesman for the consumer agency, adding that voluntary safety controls have cut down the number of dangerous drains. "But the drains have great power, and there are cases where adults have been held down and drowned because of them. Anybody with a spa or residential pool needs to make sure they have them checked out to prevent these types of accidents from happening."
According to Fairfax County police, the whirlpool was next to a swimming pool area and was not a hot tub. Amy Lubas, a police spokeswoman, said the whirlpool had been checked recently.
"It was functioning perfectly," Lubas said. "It was cleaned and inspected the day before the party."
Heather Paul, executive director of the National Safe Kids Coalition, said the accident should make people aware of the dangers posed by whirlpools and other home recreational pools.
"Unfortunately, it shouldn't take a death to make people more wary," Paul said. "The whole thing is just a nightmare. Clearly, constant adult supervision is the only solution to the dangers of having children around water, whether it's open water, pools or hot tubs. A drowning can happen in nearly a blink of the eye."
Staff writer Maria Glod contributed to this report.