Mar 082011

It may seem odd to kick off drowning awareness month as the summer is winding down, but officials say as back-to-school activities pick up, parents can get distracted, possibly leading to a spike in drownings.

That’s why first responders and physicians gathered outside the Hillenbrand Aquatic Center at the University of Arizona on Wednesday for the third annual Safe Kids Tucson, which kicks off Drowning Impact Awareness Month.

In the first half of 2011, three children drowned in Pima County, fire officials said. In 2010, one child drowned in the county. Nine other children have been injured during near-drownings in the county this year.

Dr. Terence O’Keeffe, a trauma surgeon at University Medical Center who has treated many near-drowning victims, emphasized the danger.

“I will be so happy if I never have to see another pediatric near-drowning again in my life,” he said.

Arizona has the second-highest drowning rate, behind Florida, said Tracy Koslowski, a spokeswoman with Drexel Heights fire.

In Maricopa County alone, 13 children have drowned this year, she said.

“We can’t just say it’s about supervision. We can’t just say it’s about barriers and we can’t just say it’s about swim lessons,” Koslowski said. “It’s about all of it.”

Druann Letter buried her young son 13 years ago after he fell into the family’s pool in Gilbert.

Weston, or “Wessie” as his best friends called him, was an energetic 3-year-old who loved firetrucks, bugs, lizards and his twin sisters, she said.

Weston’s father, a firefighter trained in CPR, lost sight of the boy for a short moment in the backyard and he fell into the pool. Weston died that day in May 1998.

“Not a day goes by that I don’t think of him, and what could’ve happened if our gate was locked,” Letter said.


Local fire officials are now classifying all near-drownings as “non-fatal drownings” saying that even if the child survives, the physical and neurological damage from being underwater can be permanent and extensive, Tracy Koslowski, a spokeswoman for Drexel Heights Fire District.

2011 drownings

  • June 12 – A 2-year-old girl drowned in a spa on Tucson’s east side.
  • May 22 – A 6-year-old girl drowned in a pool during a party on Tucson’s northwest side.
  • Feb. 16 – A 3-year-old boy drowned in a pool in Oro Valley.

For more information on pool safety, contact Safe Kids Tucson at 324-2783 or email Contact reporter Fernanda Echavarri at or 573-4224.

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