Witness says lifeguard at county pool couldn't swim

DEKALB CO., GA (WXIA) – A child nearly drowned in a DeKalb County pool Monday evening, and his mother says the lifeguards did nothing to help rescue him.

Melissa Sloan said parents should question whether any DeKalb County pool is prepared for emergencies – to save a child's life.

Monday, just after 6 p.m., at DeKalb County's crowded Brown's Mill Family Aquatic Center, something happened to 14-year-old Brionne Sloan in the deep end of the pool – no one is sure what it was.

But Brionne went down in seven feet of water.

Brionne's mother, Melissa Sloan, was at the shallow end of the pool and saw a crowd start to gather. She found out later that a swimmer struggled to lift Brionne up and pull him to the side of the pool, where someone else was able to lift him out of the water.

Sloan said she did not realize at first that the child she saw motionless next to the pool was her son.

He was "completely blue. I couldn't see who it was, and he wasn't moving," she said.

Word spread that the child was dead.

"I saw three of the workers walking away, shaking their heads," Sloan said.

Then someone shouted to Sloan that it was her son. She ran up to him, and realized no one was tending to him at all, she said. Then, just before she could reach him, "A young woman in the crowd decided to rub and pat on my son's back until he started to throw up."

She was about to get into the ambulance with Brionne, she said, when the man who'd lifted him out of the pool told her that he'd spoken with a lifeguard asking why didn't they help.

"The lifeguard told him that they couldn't swim to him, they didn't know how to swim, and one said that he didn't know CPR," she said.

DeKalb County officials are investigating what happened.

Lifeguards at Browns Mill Family Aquatic Center are not county employees. They work for a pool management company, USA Pools, which is under contract with DeKalb to manage the center and employ the lifeguards. The company has been a county contractor since around 2008 and is paid $240,000 to provide lifeguards to the pool.

DeKalb manages its other six swimming pools on its own.

Shiera Campbell, a DeKalb County Public Information Officer, said Tuesday that an investigation is underway.

"Our thoughts and prayers are with the family right now. And right now our biggest concern is hoping that this young man makes it through," Campbell said.

What does the county expect of his pool management contractor?

"Make sure that these lifeguards are trained, that they have the ability to swim, and that they are CPR certified," said Campbell. "Of course we want to make sure that every pool in DeKalb County is properly staffed, and that we have staff there that is trained and able to make sure than anyone who goes there is safe."

Campbell said the information she received is that Brionne "was breathing and responsive" at the time he was pulled out of the pool, and didn't need CPR.

"No," Sloan said, "he was blue. the man that pulled him out has stated that he was unconscious, he was unconscious when they pulled him out of the water," which is one reason, she said, they had so much difficulty and it took as long as it did.

Sloan believes the lifeguards could have rescued her son quicker than the people in the pool did.

"Yes, I believe that -- once alerted that he was in trouble -- he could have been pulled out a lot sooner and resuscitated a lot sooner," she said.

The pool management company, USA Pools, responded to 11Alive News Tuesday evening with a text message saying no one with the company would comment on the incident.

The company called Sloan on Wednesday to check on the family and see if there was anything they could do.

Melissa Sloan said doctors told her the next several days will be crucial to her son's recovery. On Wednesday afternoon, he remained in ICU at Children's Healthcare of Atlanta at Egleston. He had been taken off of a ventilator and was slowly breathing on his own. Doctors said it will take some time to determine how much damage his lungs have suffered.

Sloan said three people saved her son's life -- the two people who pulled him out of the water and the person who got him breathing again -- and she is grateful. She says no one should ever expect lifeguards to be the only people at a pool responsible for helping swimmers who get into trouble. But she says lifeguards should always help when help is needed.

"When you go somewhere like that, you want to feel safe. You don't want to feel like, your kids, if they walk away from you, could die. I won't go back there. My first and last time there.... Something went wrong... When you have people saying I don't know CPR, when you have people saying I can't swim, when you have people getting out of the pool that work there versus staying in the pool to go get the child, that's a problem. That's a huge problem. I just don't want somebody else's child to go through that."

Correction: On Tuesday, June 23, DeKalb County told 11Alive News that USA Pools manages all of the county's seven swimming pools. On Thursday, June 25, a spokesman for DeKalb said that USA Pools manages only the Browns Mill Family Aquatic Center where this incident occurred; the county manages the six other pools "in-house."

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