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Originally published September 8, 2013 at 3:58 PM | Page modified September 9, 2013 at 2:53 PM

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Corrected version

Guest: Drowning death of Tesfaye Deboch remains incomprehensible

So many people failed to do the right thing that could have prevented the drowning death of Tefaye Girma Deboch, according to guest columnists Johnson Gwatipedza and Andrew Ssekajja.

Special to The Times

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I agree that it surely sounds as if many people failed to do the right thing here... MORE
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Mr. Gwatipedza and Mr. Ssekajja, I am sorry for your loss. It is tragedy that your... MORE

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ON July 1, we received the news that broke our hearts. Our friend Tesfaye Girma Deboch had died in a pool accident at the Quality Inn and Suites at Seattle Center the night before.

We are still mourning the passing of such a brilliant young man, a Washington State University student and a decent swimmer. But we still cannot make sense of this whole situation.

According to events recounted by his friends and news reports, at 5:30 p.m. on June 30 Tesfaye was swimming with a friend Pavan Dhanireddy.

Pavan saw that his friend was in trouble and sought help from the front desk. About 15 people came out to help, but only one person got into the pool while the first responders were called.

The first person who searched the pool was not a trained rescuer. We wonder why the hotel did not have a trained lifeguard or state-required rescue equipment. It’s also incomprehensible that the hotel staff did not immediately turn off the water-drainage circulation system.

The first responders got the call at 5:35 p.m. When the firefighters arrived they did not get into the pool to search for Tesfaye, even though the water was very murky — so cloudy that they could not see the bottom of the pool.

No one attempted to dive deep below to the bottom of the drain and make sure that Tesfaye was not there.

The firefighters did not ask the hotel to turn off the water-drainage circulation system. The firefighters did not ask for the video surveillance of the pool to make sure that Tesfaye had left the pool.

The police determined that he had left the pool and asked Pavan and his friends to go and look for him. One wonders how police officers concluded Tesfaye left to travel naked in the streets while his clothes, phone and shoes remained poolside.

After the firefighters left, the hotel opened the pool for people to swim, despite the murkiness of the water. Pavan and his friends pleaded with the hotel managers for surveillance video.

It took more than two hours for the hotel to review these images. It was not until 8:10 p.m. when the hotel staff realized that he did not leave the pool. By then it was too late. His body had been at the bottom of the pool all along. The emergency shutoff for the water-drainage circulation system had failed to engage.

It is mind-blowing to read that the hotel had had a history of violations with Public Health — Seattle & King County for pool-safety violations. The hotel guests were not informed about the violations.

On such a tragic day, many people could have done the right thing. Instead, we lost a precious life that could have changed this world.

There were heroes that we shall be forever grateful to — Texas firefighter Tom Fleming who searched and found the body of Tesfaye in the pool. We cannot forget Tesfaye’s Washington State University friends who tried to save him.

Honor Tesfaye’s life by improving pool safety. The Seattle Fire and Police departments should conduct a thorough investigation of the incident and make the report public.

Lessons learned could help improve emergency response so that another family will not lose a loved one under such circumstances. Changes must be made to how rescuers respond.

If the person who had drowned was white and his friend did not speak with a South Indian accent, would events have turned out differently? First responders need diversity and sensitivity training on how to work with minority groups.

Public Health — Seattle & King County should create a public-online registry for hotel-pool violations like it does for food-safety violations at restaurants. The county should require trained lifeguards at all public pools.

Each step of the way, serious human errors were made that are tough to stomach. Let’s make sure such a thing will never happen again.

Johnson Gwatipedza and Andrew Ssekajja were friends of Tesfaye from Laramie, Wyo. All three attended the University of Wyoming in Laramie.

Information in this article, originally published at 3:58 p.m. Sept. 8, 2013, was corrected at 1:50 p.m. on Sept. 9, 2013. A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that Public Health – Seattle & King County did not verify whether Quality Inn and Suites in Seattle Center addressed a safety violation before the hotel re-opened its pool. The department verified changes were made.


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