Water park owner after boy, 5, drowns: ‘We have pool attendants, no lifeguards’

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Earlisha Derrell shows a photo of her nephew Damarie Jeffrey at the family home Bassa Hill, La Brea. Jeffrey drowned at Fun Splash Water Park, Debe on Sunday. – AYANNA KINSALE

Lifeguards are no guarantee that people can be saved in an emergency, Vijay Ramai, the owner of Fun Splash Water Park where five-year-old Damarie Jeffrey drowned on Sunday, said on Tuesday. Ramai said there have been tragic incidents at beaches where lifeguards were on duty.

Damarie’s relatives said had there been lifeguards at the waterpark, his life might have been saved.

There are signs around the pool areas of the waterpark indicating the absence of lifeguards. “We don’t have lifeguards, we have pool attendants,” Ramai told Newsday.

“We classify them as pool attendants rather than lifeguards because our past experience has taught us that when many of our customers come with kids, because they see the word ‘lifeguard,’ they believe they can leave their children unsupervised to be managed and guarded by another human being. We use the words ‘pool attendant’ and we make an honest effort to ensure the safety of our clients. That is priority.” He said he was not on site at the time of the incident, “but people who were there said the pool attendants responded and did an excellent job.

“They are not certified doctors or nurses but they know how to handle first aid.”

Damarie drowned during a birthday celebration for his two-year-old cousin Shamiya Gooding. The birthday party was held at Fun Splash Water Park, Debe.

Damarie was a first-year student at La Brea RC Primary School and had only started school on September 4. It is still unclear how Damarie, who was with his mother, Anika George, and other relatives and friends, ended up in the adult section of the pool around 4.20 pm.

His body was pulled out of the water and staff at the water park and later emergency health technicians (EMTs) tried to resuscitate him. He was still breathing when he was put in an ambulance to be taken to the SFGH, but was declared dead around 6.16 pm. An autopsy has shown the cause of his death as asphyxia caused by drowning.

The autopsy was done at the mortuary of the San Fernando General Hospital (SFGH) on Tuesday, his grandmother Laura Jeremiah told Newsday.

Ramai said to ensure his clients’ privacy, there are no cameras in the pool area. “So it is difficult to say exactly what happened.

“Everybody was there having a good time, and in the blink of an eye, tragedy struck.

“Now is not the time to be casting blame, but to show empathy and compassion for the people who are suffering. We don’t want to escalate a situation and put pressure on those who were there in the group. From an emotional perspective, we want to ensure that we exercise a high degree of empathy for what took place.”

Jeremiah confirmed that Ramai had contacted her and offered not only his condolences, but commitment to assist in any way he could.

“I am very grateful for his call,” she said, while making arrangements for a funeral later this week.

Investigations are continuing.