Monday, January 22, 2018
News Roundup

Tampa could pay $200K in suit over girl who drowned in city pool

TAMPA — The death of an 11-year-old girl who drowned at a city pool staffed with three lifeguards could cost taxpayers $200,000.

That's what city attorneys are recommending that the City Council approve to settle a negligence lawsuit filed in the death of Oak Park Elementary School fifth-grader Brittany Mills, who died the afternoon of July 8, 2009.

This is what occurred, according to a report later compiled by the city:

Brittany was among 25 to 35 children from a summer program at the Jackson Heights Community Center who were on a field trip to the Cyrus Greene Park pool in East Tampa. Brittany was in the pool with some fellow campers as others waited their turn on the deck.

Other campers later told police they saw Brittany jumping feet-first from a diving platform, racing a boy into the deep end and sliding into the pool on a slide. She had been in the pool less than an hour when a whistle blew and the pool emptied to make room for the next group of kids.

Brittany was wearing a coral-colored, two-piece swimsuit, but when lifeguard Tony Anderson first noticed her near his station, he thought he saw a T-shirt in the water. After he realized she was lying motionless on the bottom in 6 feet of water, she immediately was pulled to the deck. She was unconscious, and a supervisor performed CPR. She was pronounced dead at St. Joseph's Hospital.

Brittany, who was 5-foot-4 and 100 pounds, was a good swimmer and had taken swim classes, her mother told investigators. She had no known medical problems, and an autopsy found no sign of foul play or that she had hit her head.

"It's an unfortunate situation all the way around," said Donald Watson, the attorney for Brittany's mother, Arnita Mills, who filed suit in Hillsborough Circuit Court in 2011.

The council is scheduled to consider the proposed settlement Thursday. City attorneys recommend approving it because they say taxpayers could lose more if the case goes to trial.

In their review of the incident, city officials said lifeguards followed proper protocol and procedures, and they described Brittany's death as unpreventable. Although they didn't blame the drowning on poor visibility, they did recommend changing the width of black lane markers on pool bottoms so that swimmers with dark skin or clothing can be seen more easily.

City spokeswoman Ali Glisson said officials since have reduced 12-inch ceramic tiles at Cyrus Greene to 10 inches to match the industry standard.

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