The Tenafly Police Department released a report it prepared on the drowning of Michael Placide. The 9-year-old died at the Hackensack University Medical Center on July 31, three days after he was pulled unconscious from the outdoor pool at the Kaplen JCC on the Palisades in Tenafly.
The police report, released last week and first publicized by the Bergen Record, features interviews with people who were at the pool, including swimmers, lifeguards, and Celia Placide, Michael’s mother, who was at the scene.
The report finds no criminal action led to Michael’s death, but it describes a summer day suddenly turned chaotic and nightmarish.
According to the report, Ms. Placide said that she had taken Michael to the pool as a special treat for his birthday the next day. (Michael turned 9 in the hospital’s intensive care unit, two days before he died.)
Ms. Placide, who lives in Brooklyn, as did her son, works in Englewood as a nanny, and was at the pool with Michael and another child she was watching. She told that police that she took her eyes off her son only for a moment.
The report said that Michael was unconscious and had no pulse when he was pulled from the pool. He had been in the big pool, which graduates in depth from 4 to 9 feet; there also are two smaller pools for young children. The big pool has three lifeguard stations; there were only two lifeguards on duty when Michael went under.
The report includes an interview with a swimmer who bumped into the boy floating in the pool in a fetal position, bubbles coming from his mouth. She tried to get him out but could not, so she screamed for help from the lifeguard. The lifeguard jumped in and got Michael out; the witness ran into the main building and called 911.
Another swimmer, Diane Levy of Tenafly, helped the lifeguard carry Michael from the pool, moved him into the shade, saw that he was vomiting and that white foam was coming from his nose, and cleaned him, she said in the report and again in an interview. “He was so heavy,” she said. Michael weighed 96, but “He was so filled up with water,” she said. “He was so very heavy.” She watched as a JCC employee administered CPR; according to the report, she was concerned because it seemed to her to take between one to three minutes to begin CPR.
Ms. Levy described a “chaotic” scene at the pool. Two witnesses were concerned about the time it took to administer first aid after Michael had been removed from the pool, and others added there was no defibrillator at the pool, although eventually one was found in the main building.
The police said they are not investigating the tragedy as a criminal act.
The Placide family has retained Michael Santo, an attorney from the firm of Duffy and Duffy, and is considering a lawsuit against the JCC.
Mr. Santo said he does not know whether any possible negligence by the JCC led to the child’s death.
“I can’t analyze the case this quickly,” he said. “More work is necessary.”
He said that he will consult with experts who will review the circumstances as described in the police report.
“I’m not going to hold up anyone and say they did something wrong unless I have that kind of facts and proof,” he said. “This family is owed peace of mind in terms of what really happened here. Everybody who uses the facilities is owed an explanation if something was done wrong.”
Ms. Levy has developed a relationship with Ms. Placide and her family since Michael’s death. Ms. Placide has not been able to go back to work; she and her husband have three other children “and no money,” Ms. Levy said.
Ms. Levy has set up a gofundme campaign, at www.gofundme.com/michaelplacide, to help the Placide family. “I will fight for Michael’s memory and for his soul,” she said. “I will defend his mom and hold her hand until the end.”
The JCC issued a statement in response to the police report.
“We were informed by the Tenafly police that they have completed their investigation into the tragic accident that occurred at our community pool in July,” the statement says. “According to the report, the drowning was ruled accidental by the police.
“The entire Kaplen JCC community remains heartbroken over the accident,” it continued. “We continue to extend our deepest sympathies to the family and friends of the child.
“The Kaplen JCC is fully committed to the safety of our members and guests and assure our community that our pool is safe for all members and guests,” it concluded. “Our internal procedures continue to meet or exceed all safety standards as required by the state of New Jersey.”
According to the Center for Disease Control, drowning is the second leading cause of unintentional injury or death for 1- to 14-year-olds, after motor vehicle crashes.