It’s been two months since a drowning death that went
unnoticed for more than two days in Fall River, Mass., garnered
While officials continue to deal with the aftermath, one health
inspector, two aquatics staff members and a supervisor have
resigned. Aquatics experts say the incident points to the need for
“Any way you look at it, there was a lack of training,
competency and responsibility. This incident was not only tragic
for [the victim] and her family, but for the aquatics
industry,” said Jesse Benavidez, an aquatics professional
from Conroe, Texas, in a post on AI Connect Aquatics International’s social network.
Marie Joseph, was last seen at the Veterans Memorial Pool alive on
Sunday, June 26. On Monday and Tuesday, the pool was open to the
public with six lifeguards on duty (four at a time). When her body
was discovered Tuesday night, the Bristol District Attorney’s
Office and Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation,
which operates the pool, began investigations.
“This tragic event leaves heavy hearts in an agency that
prides itself on its ability to provide high-quality, safe,
recreational opportunities for the residents of the
Commonwealth,” said DCR Commissioner Edward M. Lambert Jr. in
a press release. “We hope that, as an agency, we will
continue to work to restore and maintain the public’s
confidence in our ability to fulfill the mission expected of us....”
Surveillance video indicates dangerously cloudy water caused
Joseph’s body to go unnoticed. Inspectors visited the pool
and reported poor water clarity, but the facility was not closed,
which is considered standard practice.
The incident is similar to the 2002 drowning of 7-year-old Paolo
Ayala, noted Alison Osinski, Ph.D., owner of Aquatic Consulting
Services. He drowned at a birthday party at a Los Angeles home.
Like Josephs, he was not immediately discovered because of cloudy
“One of the seven deadly sins is having cloudy water,”
said Tom Griffiths, founder of Aquatic Safety Research Group in
State College, Pa. “It’s just a lack of vigilance on
the part of the pool manager.”
Following hearings, the health inspector who approved the pool was
asked to resign, along with two pool managers and their supervisor,
the DCR Southeast regional director. As of press time, the rest of
the Veterans Memorial pool staff was still on administrative leave;
the pool had been closed and drained.
Joseph was last seen alive on the pool’s water slide. The
preliminary investigation revealed that only one lifeguard was on
duty at the slide, another violation. Per DCR policy, Griffiths
said, “there should have been two guards watching that
The DCR owns and operates more than 20 pools, and all were closed
briefly for inspection following the incident. Lambert ordered that
slides at six pools remain closed until a thorough review is
completed. Additionally, in response to the incident, the DCR has
implemented several policy changes. Water quality testing at all
facilities now will be done with a Secchi disk.
To determine water clarity, the black-and-white, 5-inch diameter
disk must be visible when placed on the pool floor. Also, required
pool checks now must include in-water inspections in addition to
on-deck visual looks.
The Bristol County DA’s Office cannot speculate on next
steps, said Gregg Miliote, director of communications. Further DCR
policy changes will depend on the investigation’s final
outcome, added DCR spokesperson S.J. Port.
But industry experts say one thing is clear: Better operator
training is needed. “Just because you took a CPO class, how
much do you really know?” Osinski said. She emphasizes the
importance of ongoing education.
Consumers also need to be vigilant, said Linda Golodner, president
emeritus, National Consumers League and a founding member of the
Water Quality & Health Council.
“This emphasizes that everyone is responsible for assuring
that a pool is safe,” said Golodner, a noted water safety
advocate who was named to Aquatics International’s
Power 25 list. “You cannot just depend on the lifeguards, the
pool operators or others to be sure your pool is clean and safe. It
is everyone’s job.”