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Drowning Under Investigation

May 9, 2001

Sister of victim questions details

As Jane Burgess prepares for her sister's funeral, she is still waiting to hear how the 20-year-old mildly retarded Gilbert student could drown Monday under the watch of four teachers and a student aide.

Guests at the Val Vista Lakes clubhouse in Gilbert pulled Briana McDowell from the bottom of a hot tub during an outing for 12 special-needs student.

Burgess said when she approached one of the supervising teachers at Desert Samaritan Medical Center and asked what happened, she was told her sister was in the tub for only 10 minutes.

One of the guests who tried to save McDowell had said three other children from her group were with McDowell, but there was no one directly supervising them.

"I don't understand why someone was no there with them," Burgess said Tuesday.

McDowell also suffered from epilepsy but had not had a seizure in 18 months and was a good swimmer, Burgess said.

Gilbert school officials called McDowell's mother Russella McDowell, on Tuesday and apologized, but could not offer any more details about her daughter's death, Burgess said.

The family had moved from Sioux Falls, S.D. to East Mesa in 1998 to escape the cold. McDowell loved to swim and shop and was looking forward to her graduation later this month.

"She wanted to go to college next fall," Burgess said.

Gilbert police did not release any new information about the drowning Tuesday. School officials would not comment and said they were working with police in an investigation.

Reproduced with permission from:
The Arizona Republic
Byline By Peter Ortiz
©Copyright 2001 Arizona Republic

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