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40 years of lifeguard experience, and still a young girl died

TAMPA — One guarded pools for 23 years. One previously saved a life. But none of three on-duty lifeguards could save an 11-year-old from drowning in a city pool.

Evaluation records show high marks for each of the lifeguards, who have 40 years of combined experience. All started out as summer lifeguards before working up to full- or part-time jobs.

Britney Mills' drowning in a city pool Wednesday was the first in 15 years.

A lifeguard dived in and pulled her out from the deep end of Cyrus Greene Park's pool when she went underwater but never swam back up, said Tampa police spokeswoman Andrea Davis. Despite CPR, Britney was pronounced dead at St. Joseph's Hospital a half-hour after the emergency call.

Records for Dametrius Edwards, 40, also known as Dean, show 23 years as a top-ranking lifeguard, praised as a "great role model" for younger staffers. One exception: He was suspended for five days after putting a 15-year-old male in a headlock for horseplay in 2004.

Anthony Anderson, 28, started as a seasonal lifeguard in 1997. He rescued someone in 2007, and records show he kept "composure under stress and his actions were heroic."

Though he earned good evaluations, one noted he "could be more vigilant and proactive" in safety procedures.

His biggest offense was forgetting to call in once before missing work.

Natalya Korotkova, 22, a seasonal lifeguard since 2004, is described as an employee well-versed in safety, with no disciplinary history.

Reached by the Times, she declined to comment about the incident. The other lifeguards could not be reached.

Carlo said the department's director has spoken to Britney's family.

At least one lifeguard is required for every 25 people in city pools, with at least one on deck, and another watching above from a stand. They change positions every 30 or 45 minutes. If one needs a break, an extra lifeguard fills in, Tampa parks and recreation spokeswoman Linda Carlo said.

Britney swam with a group of 30 to 40 kids from Jackson Heights Community Center. An extra lifeguard was stationed in anticipation of more swimmers, Carlo said.

An Oak Park Elementary administrator remembered Britney as studious and smiling, a girl who usually wore her hair in braids.

The principal visited the family's home to deliver a sympathy card, according to Britney's aunt, Sirena Mills.

Britney's mother, Arnita Mills, has been staying with relatives. She returned home briefly Thursday but reportedly left because of media attention.

"She doesn't want to talk to anyone. She's still in shock," Sirena Mills said.

It isn't yet known how long Britney was underwater or why.

After six minutes, brain damage or death becomes more likely, said Dr. Peter Wernicki, a former lifeguard and member of an American Red Cross Advisory Council.

An autopsy is pending. The city and Tampa police are investigating Wednesday's incident.

Times staff writer Robbyn Mitchell contributed to this report. Ileana Morales can be reached at imorales@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3403.

40 years of lifeguard experience, and still a young girl died 07/09/09 [Last modified: Thursday, July 9, 2009 11:39pm]
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