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Basin girl dies in a pool in Mexico

Park Record Utah

February 11, 2009

Snyderville Basin resident Linda Kennedy chokes back tears describing her 5-year-old granddaughter who died Jan. 15 in a wading pool in Mexico.

The child hadn't a chance even though young Linnea Rose Oldham's mother was just a few yards away at the time of her death, Kennedy explained in a telephone interview Monday.

"You could have been sitting right next to her, it inverted [Linnea's] intestines and her stomach and her lungs, and it choked her immediately," Kennedy said. "None of us had ever heard of an incident like this and we all were just perplexed at what went on."

The girl's mother, Basin resident Tara Cinelli, tried to resuscitate Linnea at the scene, the grandmother said.

"She was dead when Tara pulled her out and Tara said she can't forget that image," Kennedy said.

But the girl didn't drown, the grandmother stressed.

Linnea put her head underwater and her mouth got close to a suction drain at the bottom of the pool, Kennedy said.

"The suction of the pipe sucked her insides out," Kennedy said tearfully.

Meanwhile, something similar happened about seven years ago to the 7-year-old granddaughter of former U.S. Secretary of State James Baker III, which led to passage of the federal Virginia Graeme Baker Pool and Spa Safety Act, named after Baker's deceased granddaughter.

Now pools and hot tubs across the nation are undergoing expensive retrofits to comply with the stricter safety rules, said Bob Swensen, environmental health director at the Summit County
Health Department.

"We're going to give them until July 1 to comply with this federal law that requires pools to modify their drains and entrapment systems," Swensen said. "This is for public pools Only very few that are coming online right now [comply] with this in the first place."

Officials at about 150 aquatics facilities at hotels, health clubs, schools and condo complexes in Summit County will need to upgrade their pools and spas, said Summit County Health Department pool inspector Roy Dixon.

"We're talking big bucks," Dixon said.

Flat drain covers will be replaced by grates that are bubble-shaped, which make it more difficult for things to get stuck in them.

"As they get their new grates put on, I'll be inspecting them," Dixon said.

But installing new anti-entrapment systems to meet the new safety guidelines could cost more than $10,000 for each pool, Dixon said.

"They need to knock a hole in the bottom of the pool," he said.

Unless drains are fixed, however, suction in swimming pools could continue trapping small children at the bottom, Swensen said.

The accidents killed about nine people between 1997 and 2007, Dixon explained, adding that these types of deaths are preventable.

"We've sent out a letter to all the public pools," Swensen said. "We expect them to come into compliance before they can become permitted again."

Stanton Jones, owner of Silver Mountain Sports Club and Spa, said his pools in western Summit County were the first in Utah to meet the tougher standards.

"It was expensive and it was a pain, but we just took care of it and got it out of the way quick," Jones said Tuesday. "If we can make the place safer, we are going to do it. If they say, this makes your club safer, then it's a good idea and we don't really mind regulation."

News of Linnea Oldham's death surprised him.

"To me there is no amount of money that can justify that," Jones said.

Kennedy recalled visiting Linnea and her younger granddaughter in Mexico in December before the eldest sister died in the shallow pool.

"If Linnea stood up, the water was not even up to her waist I was in the pool every day with her. I was swirling the girls around, playing princesses," Kennedy said. "I know that Tara wants this story out and I feel certain Linnea wants this story out."

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