Pool Company Head Arraigned
Submitted by admin on Tue, 08/12/2008 - 08:49
Charged In Boy's Death; Lawyer Says Safety Law Not Well-Known
By JOHN CHRISTOFFERSEN | Associated Press
July 29, 2008
STAMFORD — - A lawyer for a swimming pool company president charged with manslaughter in the drowning of a Greenwich boy said Monday that there was a general lack of awareness about a safety law his client is accused of breaking.
Shoreline Pools President David Lionetti of Stamford was arraigned on a second-degree manslaughter charge Monday in Superior Court in Stamford. He did not enter a plea, but intends to plead not guilty at his next court appearance Aug. 12.
Six-year-old Zachary Cohn died last summer after his arm became stuck in a powerful pump drain in the pool at his home. Authorities say Lionetti recklessly caused the boy's death because his company did not install a required safety device that would have detected the drain obstruction and turned the system off.
Thousands of pools were built in Connecticut before the code change in 2004, without the safety device and without causing entrapments, said Richard Meehan Jr., Lionetti's lawyer.
"They certainly never envisioned a tragedy of this nature would happen," Meehan said, referring to Shoreline Pool officials.
Since 1985, more than 150 cases of swimming pool drain entrapments have been reported around the country. There have been at least 48 deaths, according to a lawsuit filed by Zachary's parents against Shoreline, the town of Greenwich and others. The entrapments also have caused many serious injuries, including disembowelments of children and adults, the lawsuit says.
An arrest affidavit quotes Lionetti's lawyer as saying Shoreline Pools was not aware that a state law that took effect in 2004 required the device. Many building officials in Connecticut also were not aware of the law, Meehan said, noting that Greenwich officials approved the pool.
But John Romano, past president of the Northeast Pool and Spa Association and president of a pool company in Norwalk, said he told Lionetti about the new law as part of an awareness campaign the trade group conducted in October 2005, according to the arrest affidavit.
The trade group also sent alerts to Shoreline Pools about code changes, the affidavit said. Numerous employees of Shoreline Pools, including Lionetti, attended annual trade shows where the devices were displayed and marketed, according to the affidavit.
Meehan says Romano is a competitor and his account will be "hotly contested" in court. He also noted that Romano says in the affidavit that the new code requirements had been "under our radar" for about a year.
Brian Platz, president of the Connecticut Building Officials Association, agreed that many building inspectors were not aware of the new code requiring the safety device because it was buried in an appendix. Platz, who is chief building official in New Canaan, said he sent out about 260 notices after the Greenwich drowning requiring pool companies to install the device in pools that had already been approved.
"It could have just as easily happened in New Canaan," Platz said. "Everybody blew it on this."
But Platz said he believes pool company officials knew about the new requirement because it was publicized within the industry and by those who make the device. When he asked why they didn't install the device, one pool company official cited cost and that others were not installing it, Platz said.
Paul Pennington, whose company makes the safety device, said some pool companies were not installing the device before the boy drowned in Greenwich. He said there was plenty of publicity about the new requirement, but some pool companies may have believed the industry was successfully fighting to overturn the new code requirements.
Lionetti's arrest came three days after fire destroyed the company's Stamford warehouse and injured 13 police officers and four firefighters. Charles Spaulding, assistant fire marshal, said Monday that the fire was started by a chemical reaction within a container on a truck stored in the warehouse.
"The arrest and the fire appear to be unrelated at this time," Spaulding said.