MERIDEN, N.H. (AP) – A 13-year-old Massachusetts boy who drowned at camp did not know how to swim and was not given a skills test before being allowed in the pool, according to a police report.

Kwami Mensah, of Chelsea, drowned June 28 in the deep end of the pool at Kimball Union Academy, while taking part in a Boston-based program called MetroLacrosse.

Mensah’s death was ruled an accident and no criminal charges are planned.

But a new police report faults camp staffers for failing to test campers’ swimming abilities before letting them in the water. It says the lifeguard on duty was distracted when the drowning occurred, and suggests Mensah, a recent immigrant from French-speaking Togo, may not have completely understood pool rules due to a language barrier.

Mensah was one of 15 campers who went swimming after a day on the playing fields. According to the report, a lifeguard gave the campers a safety talk before allowing them in the pool. It was during that presentation, police said, that Mensah confided to a cousin he did not know how to swim.

Later, a 15-year-old camper found Mensah submerged in the pool’s 9-foot deep diving well. At the time, the lifeguard was standing near the shallow end helping another swimmer with a life vest.

“When you have non-trained people that recognize the incident before trained people, it pretty much indicates that what was supposed to happen in surveillance wasn’t going on,” said Gerald Dworkin, a Dublin-based pool safety expert cited in the report.

The report also faulted camp counselors for being unfamiliar with the pool’s emergency equipment. It notes one counselor ran outside – past an emergency telephone – to use a cellular phone to call for help.

MetroLacrosse Managing Director Emily Helm said she believes staffers provided adequate safety monitoring.

“At the end of the day, there is an incredible tragedy that occurred and it wouldn’t be human if we didn’t all question what else we could have done,” she said. “At the same time … we felt that having three adults for 15 campers, including a certified lifeguard, was an appropriate response.”

At a meeting after the drowning, some parents complained MetroLacrosse told campers to bring swim gear, but never asked about their children’s swimming abilities or sent home forms to obtain parents’ permission to allow their children to swim.

“No parent wants to put a child on a bus and give them a kiss and say goodbye and never see them again,” said Sharon Areh, whose son attended the camp. “That’s devastation.”



Information from: Lebanon Valley News, http://www.vnews.com

AP-ES-08-06-06 1317EDT


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