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A SPECIAL SECTION: Haiti, Since the January 12, 2010 Fierce Earthquake

Posted Saturday, July 2, 2011 


Boy wishes he could have saved swimmer

Elba Saldivar-Cruz, standing with her daughter, talked about the death of her friend Marie Joseph in Fall River yesterday. “She lost her brother and some other family members in the earthquake in Haiti, and now this happens,’’ Saldivar-Cruz said. Elba Saldivar-Cruz, standing with her daughter, talked about the death of her friend Marie Joseph in Fall River yesterday. “She lost her brother and some other family members in the earthquake in Haiti, and now this happens,’’ Saldivar-Cruz said. (George Rizer/Globe Staff)

FALL RIVER - Nobody would listen, the boy complained.

The mother of the 9-year-old who reportedly tried to alert two lifeguards separately about the apparent drowning of Marie Joseph at a state-run pool here Sunday said in an interview yesterday that her son is despondent and keeps saying he wishes he were bigger so he could have saved the woman.

“He’s sad because he saw the last moments of Marie’s life, and when he tried to do something, nobody listened,’’ said Danyelle Hunt, 30, standing in the parking lot of her apartment complex, about 2 miles from the pool.

An investigation into the death of Joseph, whose body was discovered after two days at the bottom of the Veterans Memorial Pool in Fall River, found that she drowned Sunday afternoon in water that was so murky that a police diver could not be seen at a depth of 3 1/2 feet to 4 feet, prosecutors said yesterday.

Investigators said the body of Joseph, 36, was submerged at the bottom of the 12-foot deep end of the pool from the time of her drowning Sunday afternoon until Tuesday evening, when her body surfaced as a result of “natural postmortem changes of the human body.’’

“The investigation thus far establishes that the water in the pool was murky and cloudy from the time the pool opened for the season on Saturday, June 25th, until the pool was closed by the pool staff on Tuesday afternoon,’’ Bristol District Attorney C. Samuel Sutter’s office said in a prepared statement.

Officials at the state Department of Conservation and Recreation, which oversees the pool in Fall River as well as 23 other pools that opened this summer, said they are investigating how its water became so murky.

“The bottom line is that if you can’t see the bottom of the pool, it should be closed,’’ said Richard Sullivan, the state’s energy and environmental affairs secretary, noting there’s no specific test for murkiness.

He said DCR officials inspect each deep-water pool before it opens for the season, which his staff said it did at the Fall River pool the day before it opened. Their inspectors certified that it was safe to swim there and that the staff had been sufficiently trained to maintain its safety.

Sullivan said DCR officials had not been able to test the water or interview their staff since Joseph’s body was discovered Tuesday night by a couple who had sneaked into the pool after hours for a swim. He said prosecutors asked the department to wait until last night to begin their investigation.

“Our internal investigation is starting immediately,’’ he said. “It’s being taken very seriously. The primary focus of the investigation will be the pool’s clarity and the protocols around closure when it’s not clear. This investigation has the absolute fullest attention.’’

Sullivan said the department is the sole authority over whether state-run pools can open. He said local officials and the state Department of Public Health often provide their own inspections, but it is up to DCR officials to decide whether a pool should be closed for safety reasons.

He said the Department of Public Health usually inspects state-run pools at least once a season. Pool staff are trained to test the water’s chlorine levels and pH balance four times a day, he said, and each pool is inspected multiple times over the season by DCR inspectors.

Sullivan’s staff noted that the Fall River pool was one of four state-run pools that had been inspected by municipal authorities last month, according to department spokeswoman Catherine Williams. The Fall River pool had been inspected by city officials on Monday and Tuesday and by the Department of Public Health on Thursday.

The staff also said the department is in the process of reinspecting 24 of its deep-water pools, 11 of which reopened yesterday, said Williams.

“We’re trying to get the pools open for the weekend, but we’re requiring they go through a full DCR inspection,’’ Sullivan said, noting the Fall River pool would probably remain closed for longer. “We are requiring all district and regional DCR managers to sign off. It’s an overabundance of caution, but we think we need to do that so the public knows the pools are safe.’’

Meanwhile, Hunt said her son went to the pool Sunday with his siblings and an aunt, and that he saw Joseph, a neighbor, there. Hunt asked that her son’s name not be published.

Hunt said her son went down a slide at the pool, and as he emerged, Joseph splashed down from the slide, grazing him on the head. Joseph attempted to say sorry, but according to the boy, she couldn’t because she started sinking.

The boy said he tried to reach out to grab her, but Joseph had already slipped to the depths of the pool. The boy went to a lifeguard, who told him she was on break, Hunt said. He went to another lifeguard, who told him that they were going to do a pool check “in a minute.’’

Hunt said her son then went back to swimming with his siblings.

Hunt was at work until late Sunday, she said, and when she returned home, her son was asleep. When Hunt learned of the drowning Tuesday, she told her children that they wouldn’t be able to go to the pool Wednesday, because it would be closed.

That’s when her son told her, “I think it’s Marie,’’ she said.

“I asked him why would he say a thing like that, and I kind of just brushed off the comment and went to work,’’ Hunt said. “An hour later, I came home and was told that detectives wanted to talk with my baby.’’

Hunt said she will seek counseling for her son.

“He’s just really sad right now,’’ she said. “He keeps saying he wishes he was bigger. They will never ever go again to a pool around here. I will put a pool in this little cement area here; if they’re hot they can play here. Those lifeguards, that’s their job to save lives and they didn’t do that.’’

In an interview at his office in City Hall, Fall River’s mayor, William A. Flanagan, said authorities are investigating whether city inspectors followed state law when they visited the pool on Tuesday. He said that if the water appears cloudy, the law requires inspectors to put a 6-inch black disk at the bottom of the deepest point of the pool.

“If you’re not able to see that disk from 10 yards away, the pool shall not be open,’’ Flanagan said. “That is under review at this time, whether that occurred.’’

Near the DCR officials and Fall River police officers at the pool yesterday afternoon was Elba Saldivar-Cruz, 31, who held hands with her daughter and two friends. As they sat next to a fence bordering the pool, Saldivar-Cruz began to pray.

“She was my best friend,’’ she said. “She lost her brother and some other family members in the earthquake in Haiti, and now this happens. She baby-sat my kids, and I told her ‘I love you, call me tomorrow,’ and she never did.’’

She added: “You have young lifeguards here, who instead of paying attention to the children are trying to get a tan.’’

David Abel can be reached at dabel@globe.com. Follow him @davabel. Brian Ballou can be reached at bballou@globe.com.

Published Saturday, July 2, 2011.

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