Family’s questions about 6-year-old boy’s drowning death may never be answered

The family of the 6-year-old boy who drowned in a Dayton pool this summer demanded answers about how the July incident could happen under lifeguard supervision. With the investigation now closed and the report released, it’s unlikely those answers will be delivered.

Two certified lifeguards were in the pool area at the time that Niguel Hamilton drowned, including one who was teaching the boy and three other children as part of a swim class.

But because a security camera at the pool wasn’t working the day of the drowning and people present during the incident say they did not see what happened to the boy, no charges will be filed and many questions are unanswered.

READ MORE: ‘Drowning is silent’: Boy’s death during swim lesson leads experts to urge safety measures

The Dayton Daily News for months sought the investigative report about the incident, asking questions about staffing, safety precautions and whether there was negligence. A review of those records revealed conflicting statements about when the boy was last seen before he was found on the bottom of the pool and whether staff or bystanders should have seen him in the deep end.

Lifeguards say they believed Hamilton exited the pool to use the restroom after asking his grandfather about his whereabouts, witness statements say. One lifeguard was seated in an elevated lifeguard chair that does not have a clear view of the place Hamilton might have last been, police investigators found.

Two lifeguards and other witnesses said there was a reflective glare on the top of the water that impacted visibility, and the lifeguards said the deep end had some cloudiness that also reduced visibility.

Drowning is one of the leading causes of unintentional injury deaths for children 14 and younger, according to the National Drowning Prevention Alliance.

“Drowning can take place in as little as 20 to 60 seconds, oftentimes without the victim being able to call out for help,” said Adam Katchmarchi, executive director of the alliance.

Attorneys representing Hamilton’s family did not immediately return requests for comment Friday.

Shortly before 6:30 p.m. on July 12, Niguel Hamilton was one of four children taking part in a swim class at the Lohrey Recreation Center in southeast Dayton.

A 29-year-old instructor told police he had the children, ages 6 to 9, line up on the south wall of the deep end of the Belmont pool, police investigative documents show.

The instructor had the children swim to the north side of the pool with his assistance. Hamilton was the first child the instructor took across. The instructor told Hamilton to hold onto the wall as he went and assisted the other children, according to his statements to police. But the instructor said when he returned with other kids, Hamilton was gone.

The instructor said he asked a 17-year-old female lifeguard who was seated in an elevated lifeguard chair if she had seen the boy. The instructor said the lifeguard and boy’s grandfather said they thought he was in the restroom, according to his statement to police.

The lifeguard in the chair also said she asked the grandfather, Willie Hamilton, if he saw the child leave, according to her statement. She said the grandfather thought he was in the bathroom.

Willie Hamilton checked the bathroom but did not locate his grandson. The female lifeguard called for the 25-year-old senior lifeguard to help with the search, witness statements show. He was in the back office.

The instructor finished the swim lessons and dismissed the other three children as the senior lifeguard and the grandfather looked for Hamilton, witness statements indicate. They looked in the restrooms, the lobby and outside the building with no success.

The instructor at one point walked the perimeter of the pool deck, scanning the water, but failed to locate the boy, according to one parent. But then the senior lifeguard spotted Hamilton at the bottom of the pool between the third and fourth lanes, police said.

The pool is rectangular and Olympic-style and ranges in depth from 3 to 10 feet, records show. There are about six swim lanes and there’s long black markings on the bottom of the pool.

The senior lifeguard jumped in and retrieved Hamilton as the swim instructor grabbed an automated external defibrillator, which he handed to the female lifeguard, according to statements to police. The swim instructor called 911.

The senior lifeguard told police he spotted Hamilton while standing next to the high guard post where the female lifeguard was sitting. He later told police he did not believe the pool was cloudy.

Lifeguards performed CPR on Hamilton until medical personnel arrived. Hamilton was transported to Dayton Children’s Hospital.

His family said he was brain dead, and he was put on life support. The boy died three days later at the hospital.

Multiple parents told police they looked in the pool for Hamilton but didn’t see him. One mother said the facility’s side garage doors were open and the sun was shining in, reflecting on the water.

One police officer at the scene said the sunlight did cause a reflection but that he could see the black markings at the bottom of the pool when he stepped closer to the edge.

The bottom of the pool and the black marker lanes are visible in some photographs taken by police within about an hour of the drowning.

In some photos, however, the water appears cloudy. Other photos show glare and reflection from outside sunlight.

The day after the drowning, a police investigator got into the pool by the ledge where the instructor said he last saw Hamilton. The investigator said he was not visible to other officers if they sat back in the guard chair or were at the tables along the wall or at the side deck behind the guard chair.

The investigator dove to the section where Hamilton was found. He said he was not visible to investigators positioned at the vantage points of the lifeguards, police records show.

The investigator the following day also noted that the pool was cloudy and visibility was distorted when there was ripples and waves in the water.

Police tested the grate drains at the bottom of the pool and found there was no suction. They tried to review surveillance footage of the incident but the security camera stopped working that morning, the records show.

Hamilton’s grandfather and another adult said they saw Hamilton off the diving board at the end of the swim lessons. Willie Hamilton told the Dayton Daily News that’s the last time he saw his grandson.

One parent said they last saw Hamilton jump off the diving board and then be assisted to the edge of the pool by the instructor.

The parent said she did not see Hamilton get out of the pool because she switched her attention to her daughter.

Two other parents said they did not see Hamilton jump off the diving board.

Katchmarchi, with the National Drowning Prevention Alliance, said in general lifeguards should be able to see all areas of their assigned zones of responsibility clearly to perform their supervision duties effectively.

“If the pool water is cloudy and the bottom of the pool is not clearly visible, the pool should be closed to swimmers,” he said.

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