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Pella Drowning Victims Told Staff They Could Swim

Posted: Saturday, July 17th, 2010 at 6:31 am
Author: KNIA/KRLS News-Eric Gotschall

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The teenage boys from the Kansas City area who died Wednesday night in an accidental drowning at the Pella Aquatic Center could not swim, though they themselves told staff with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA) otherwise. FCA Executive vice president Tom Rogeburg tells KNIA/KRLS News that the boys’ parents signed permission documents stating that 14-year-old Gael Paulette – also known as Gael Chrispin – and 15-year-old Nehmson Sanon could not swim. Unfortunately, those slips were left in the FCA office in Pella, and not taken to the pool and checked.

All 175 students were asked at the pool if they could swim, and both boys who ultimately drowned assured FCA and Pella Aquatic Center staff that they could swim before getting into the water. Rogeburg says that as the students were boarding the buses to leave the aquatic center, it was noticed that the two boys were missing. About this time, and as the lights were being shut off, one of the pool personnel members shouted, ”There’s bodies in the water!”

The two boys were then pulled out of the water, but attempts to revive them failed and they were later pronounced dead at Pella Regional Health Center. A preliminary autopsy report stated the cause of death for both boys to be consistent with accidental drowning. Rogeburg says this is the worst tragedy in 54 years of FCA camps, where tens of thousands of children have participated. As a result of the accident, Rogeburg says the Fellowship of Christian Athletes has initiated an evaluation of its policies.

Additionally, a source tells KNIA/KRLS News that poor lighting conditions at the bottom of the Pella Aquatic Center may have been a contributing factor in the boys not being seen in the deep end of the pool. In October of 2006, the City of Pella filed a lawsuit against the installers of the lighting, Central Electric Company (CEC) of Pella.

The lawsuit alleges that that Central Electric knowingly and fraudulently installed carbon steel conduit and couplings instead of red brass conduit required by contract, and that CEC painted the carbon steel red to conceal the action. They further charge that the electrical cords to the underwater light fixtures were not of sufficient length to allow for removal and replacement of the lights. Central Electric Company is owned by Vincent Blom of Pella. The trial began this week.