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Pool Entrapment Death in Club Leads to Lawsuit

Pittsburgh, Pa — The Downtown Athletic Club of Pittsburgh (PA), which closed in May after its lease expired, was named as a defendant on June 11 in a wrongful death lawsuit related to a fatal drowning, according to local media.

The Doubletree Hotel & Suites also was named as a defendant in the suit. The club rented its pool space from the hotel, which is owned by Elmhurst Corp.

Lorenzo Williams, 38, of Verona, PA, drowned April 11 in the 10-foot deep end of the club's pool. The Allegheny County medical examiner's office ruled the death an accidental drowning.

In the lawsuit filed with the Allegheny County (PA) Common Pleas Court, Williams' widow, Ericka Williams, says her husband became “entrapped in the suction of the swimming pool drain,” which caused his death. The lawsuit alleges that the defendants were negligent in not making sure the pool was safe and in not bringing it into compliance with the Virginia Graeme Baker Pool & Spa Safety Act (VGB).

On Dec. 19, 2008, the federal VGB Act went into effect, requiring pools to be equipped with anti-entrapment drain covers.

This month, the hotel's Web site noted that the pool was closed for renovations until Aug. 1. The hotel has not returned calls for comment about whether the pool was compliant.

Guillermo Cole, a spokesman for the Allegheny County Health Department, told local media that the pool was in compliance with the county's requirements, but that the department currently is not enforcing the federal requirement.

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) is supposed to enforce the federal law, but the CPSC says it's relying on states to co-enforce it.

“What happened in Pittsburgh was a tragedy,” John Procter, Pool Safety Council spokesman, said in a statement. The council is an advocacy group for pool safety. “What's equally tragic is that this could have been avoided through compliance with the federal law that requires the installation of devices that will make entrapment a thing of the past.”

From 1999 to 2008, 83 pool and spa entrapments were reported, including 11 deaths and 69 injuries, according to CPSC data.

Although many entrapment deaths happen in shallow water, suction-related accidents can occur in deeper water, says Kathleen Reilly, public affairs specialist with the CPSC.

“It has happened before in the deep end, but I'm guessing it would have had to be a pretty strong force [to entrap Williams],” says Reilly.

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