Toddler drowns in parents’ hot tub

Gilroy
– Two Gilroy parents left their children unsupervised for only a
minute or two, but it was enough time for a tragic accident to
claim the life of their 18-month-old daughter.
By Lori Stuenkel

Gilroy – Two Gilroy parents left their children unsupervised for only a minute or two, but it was enough time for a tragic accident to claim the life of their 18-month-old daughter.

The girl’s mother and father were both at their home on Pitlochry Drive last Wednesday when the girl apparently drowned in an in-ground hot tub.

One of the parents, not feeling well, had gone upstairs, leaving the other parent and their children downstairs, according to police. Later, the second parent left the children – it is unclear how many – alone “just for a minute or two” to check on a load of laundry, Sgt. Kurt Svardal of the Gilroy Police Department said Tuesday.

When the parent returned, the 18-month-old girl was gone from the room. She was found in the back yard of the Eagle Ridge development home, face down in the family’s hot tub. There was no cover on the hot tub, which sits at ground level.

The girl’s parents tried unsuccessfully to resuscitate her, and she was taken to Saint Louise Regional Hospital where she died an hour later.

The girl’s name and exact cause of death have not yet been released by the Santa Clara County coroner, but Svardal said all indications point to drowning as the cause of death. An autopsy is being conducted as is standard in infant deaths in the county.

“It’s a tragedy,” Svardal said. “It’s just one of those things.”

It is also a tragedy repeated across the country: Thirteen children younger than 5 drowned in hot tubs in 2001, the most recent year of data, said Mark Ross, spokesman for the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. Hundreds more drown in pools each year.

“We usually talk about children under 5 because they’re the most at-risk,” Ross said. “They don’t really understand the hazards of water at that age.”

Hot tubs are often accessible to children in the winter because many families have them inside the home, Ross said. In-home drowning dangers are present year-round and include bathtubs, buckets and pails, ice chests with melted ice, toilets, fish ponds and fountains, and irrigation ditches. Children may drown in an inch or two of water, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.

“Of course, our main tip to preventing these is to have a cover that goes over the hot tub that prevents access by young children, and keep them locked when not in use,” Ross said.

The AAP also tells parents to install a fence at least 4 feet high around the perimeter of the pool with gates that self-close and self-latch, to keep out wandering children.

Not all covers will keep children out of hot tubs and pools, though. Only those certified safe by the American Society for Testing and Materials should be used by families with young children, the AAP recommends.

“There are covers that are specifically constructed for safety, which ours are,” said Tom Dankle, vice president of Aquamatic Cover Systems in Gilroy. “They’re a solid material and they’re locked into a track system on the sides of the pool.”

Solar covers, for example, which are flexible and lay on the surface of the water, are not “safety covers.”

Rigid safety covers can be installed on almost any pool and hot tub, Dankle said, although there are a few that cannot be covered – such as those with waterfalls.

“As long as you can establish a rectangle over the maximum widths and lengths … and have a sufficient deck area, you can cover it,” he said.

Safety covers can be several times more costly than the more pliable versions. Automatic covers can cost $6,000 to $8,000, Dankle said, and manual versions cost about half that.

“Without sounding cliche, you can’t put a price on life,” he said.

For more hot tub and pool safety information, visit www.aap.org.

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