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Pool fatality stirs safety debate

Lexington police think a 14-year-old girl who died last month after becoming trapped underwater in a pool outside a condominium complex might have been searching in the pool drain for a lost bracelet.

Investigators found the broken bracelet at the bottom of the pool, not far from the drain where Kiah Nicole Milsom's arm was caught on July 20, according to police records obtained by the Herald-Leader through an open records request.

Since there were no lights illuminating the pool at the time of the accident, police said, Kiah would not have seen the bracelet.

The pool's drain cover was not properly secured the day Kiah was trapped, police say.

Some experts argue that drains, which are part of the water filtration system, aren't necessary in all pools. Health officials say they keep pools sanitary.

Drains have been linked to several entrapments that have occurred in pools nationwide, including two this summer in Lexington — Kiah, and a 3-year-old boy who was found at the bottom of a pool at 200 Alsab Court and resuscitated. Earlier this week, a swimming pool company president in Connecticut pleaded not guilty to a manslaughter charge in connection with the drowning death of a boy whose arm was trapped by a pool's powerful drain pump.

Kiah's mother, Lisa Scott, wants state laws changed to make pools safer. She has joined experts who argue that drains shouldn't be required by law.

”It's something that's real important to me,“ Scott said. ”The kids weren't drinking; they weren't doing anything. They were just on a summer night out doing what kids do, and swimming.“

On July 20, Kiah was sleeping over with a friend who lives near the Aintree condominium complex on Redding Road. About 4 a.m., Kiah and two of her friends jumped a fence to go swimming in a private pool.

After one of the friends saw Kiah thrashing about in the pool, the two tried to save her. One of the friends eventually ran for help.

Kiah, who would have started her freshman year Wednesday at Tates Creek High School, died July 25 at University of Kentucky Hospital from a brain injury caused by lack of oxygen.

Lexington police concluded an investigation into Kiah's death earlier this month. No charges will be filed because her death ”does not appear to have been the result of a crime,“ the police report says.

The drain cover at Aintree was unsecured and did not match the drain, so it wouldn't have been able to be installed properly, a police report says.

If the drain had been installed properly, Kiah, who her mother said started swimming at the age of 3, couldn't have gotten it off without proper tools in the dark, records say.

”If the cover had been in place, the accident wouldn't have happened,“ said Luke Mathis, the Lexington Health Department's environmental team leader.

Mathis said the pool, which received a 100 percent at the health department's last inspection in June, was closed by the condominium complex after the July incident.

Aintree officials did not return calls for comment.

Kids play with drains

One of the other juveniles with Kiah told police that children often used the Aintree pool's drain cover as a Frisbee, and they placed items into the drain to watch them float away, according to police reports.

Scott said too much responsibility at pools is left solely in the hands of maintenance workers, and she wants state laws changed to protect other children.

She isn't alone in her quest. Ray Cronise, who co-owns a pool manufacturing company based in Fayetteville, Tenn., has worked for about eight years to change laws regarding pool drains. He recently returned with Lexington pool builder Chuck Mattingly from Frankfort, where he talked to legislators and health officials about state laws requiring drains.

Cronise said laws such as the Virginia Graeme Baker Pool and Safety Act, which requires pools to have a compliant antivortex drain cover as well as at least one complying anti-entrapment device or system, are complex. He said the risk of death or injury would be reduced if the pools didn't have drains.

Cronise said the anti-entrapment devices also don't work fast enough to prevent injuries and deaths.

He said studies have proven it's a common misconception that pool drains are needed to circulate water, remove dirt and drain pools. Pumps are most often used to drain pools. The pool's skimmers along the perimeter can support water flow. And, he said, drains remove some, but not all, dirt; pools still have to be vacuumed.

Mattingly, who owns Backyard Fun Pools on Nich­olasville Road, said he has built pools without drains at private residences and there haven't been any water circulation problems. Plus, Mattingly said, he feels better knowing the people in the homes are safer.

”I'm really passionate about this,“ he said. ”It's kids' lives, and it's adults' lives.“

Some health department officials aren't convinced that removing drains is the answer, and are concerned about whether pools would stay clean and sanitary without drains.

”We're certainly not opposed to it, but we do want to see some factual evidence and sound research,“ said Guy Delius, acting director for the Division of Public Health Protection and Safety in Frankfort.

He said there are a wide array of communicable illnesses that can be passed through water. Delius said the department is open to discussing new technology and ideas with anyone. But the ideas need to be backed up by sound research, possibly by universities or private firms, before they're implemented because they can affect hundreds of people in a pool.

Federal law requires safety measures such as anti-entrapment devices, while states determine whether or not to require drains. Delius said most — if not all — states require drains.

But experts say maintenance workers should not be relied on to keep drains covered properly and installed with anti-entrapment devices.

”It doesn't matter how you protect it,“ Cronise said. ”If the cover is broken or missing, you can still die from it.“