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Toddler drownings spotlight pool risks

July 21, 2008

It took only minutes.

In the time Alaeyah Jones's godmother walked from one end of the pool to the other, the 3-year-old had drowned.

"I saw my baby floating in the corner, and I snatched her," godmother Valerie Yates said. "It was fast, so fast, so fast - no more than three minutes."

After starting the year without a child drowning through April, the Valley has recorded eight in the past 2 1/2 months, including that of Alaeyah, who slipped underwater at an apartment pool on May 17. The most recent child drowning occurred Sunday in Peoria.

Water-safety officials are sounding the alarm to watch children around the pool during this time of year, the height of the summer heat. The Arizona Department of Health Services cite June, July and August as the peak months for pool-related incidents.

And this year, officials say another phenomenon may be raising the risks of drowning incidents: the economy.

"A lot of people aren't taking big vacations but staying home, and more and more people are out in the backyard recreating than maybe (they) have been in the past," said Phoenix fire Division Chief Mark Faulkner, a department spokesman.

Drownings often occur when children who do not know how to swim wander, unsupervised, into pools, or when caretakers are distracted. In Alaeyah's case, she was not supposed to go into the pool that day because she was sick.

But Alaeyah's family members said it was impossible to say no to that precious face, and the toddler convinced Yates - Alaeyah affectionately called her godmother "Big Mama" - to let her stick her feet into the water.

"It was a perfect day," Yates said. "We bought all this food and water toys because I knew all the kids were going to be there. It was gonna be a big day."

After she spotted Alaeyah floating in the pool, Yates got the child out and tried unsuccessfully to perform CPR.

Alaeyah's parents, Danielle Martin and Ricki Jones, had been at Martin's mother's house in Phoenix when they got the alarming phone call detailing what had happened.

"There was nothing else on my mind but getting to that hospital," said Jones, who could not look up as he spoke about his youngest daughter.

Martin said she remembers how much Alaeyah loved Shrek 3, Dora the Explorer and Tinker Bell.

"Her Tinker Bell party, her Tinker Bell bed, Tinker Bell this, Tinker Bell that," she said.

Alaeyah's 4-year-old sister, Oachia, chimed in, "And her Tinker Bell bag!"

"I try to remember her as being who she was," Martin said. "I know we all gotta go someday, but dang, she wasn't even here long enough.

"There's no hurt worse than losing your own child."

Alaeyah's death was painful for Yates.

"That was my sidekick, my shadow," she said.

Her goddaughter's voice is still on her cellphone - a reminder from the girl to Yates, "Take your medicine, girl!"

Ed Swift can appreciate what Alaeyah's family is going through. He started Children's Safety Zone, a Web site dedicated to drowning awareness and prevention, after he went through a near-drowning incident as a new parent.

Reproduced with permission from:
The Arizona Republic
Jourdan Rassás
Copyright 2008 Arizona Republic

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