Sunday, May 27, 2018
Public safety

Toddler dies after falling into Pinellas Park swimming pool

PINELLAS PARK — Elianna DePasquale was only 2 years old but already had a knack for helping people.

She helped teachers set up snacks and she held doors for classmates at the R'Club Early Learning Academy in Clearwater. She led the way when the class went outside.

So her parents thought it was fitting that even in her death, their daughter continued to help others.

Elianna was found unconscious Friday in the swimming pool at her home on 69th Avenue N in Pinellas Park. By Saturday, doctors at All Children's Hospital in St. Petersburg believed she was brain-dead.

Her parents, Matthew DePasquale and Nicole Pennington, decided to make her an organ donor. Elianna went into cardiac arrest Sunday morning and died about 9 a.m.

Her heart valves went to two people and her corneas may go to a third person, said DePasquale, 31.

"It meant a great deal to us that her death helped someone else,'' he said.

DePasquale was with Elianna on Friday afternoon when she wanted to go in the pool. She loved the water, he said, but could not swim on her own yet.

As they were preparing to go outside, DePasquale was on the phone. Elianna kept asking to bring a doll along, so he let her get a toy.

She returned and apparently slid out a doggie door into the back yard. When DePasquale realized she was missing minutes later, he ran outside. Elianna was lying in the pool.

The girl's aunt called 911, and DePasquale began performing CPR. Paramedics arrived about 4:30 p.m. and took her to St. Petersburg General Hospital, said Pinellas Park police Capt. Sanfield Forseth.

Elianna was later transferred to All Children's Hospital.

Forseth said no criminal charges are likely.

DePasquale and Pennington, 33, said they want their daughter's story to serve as a lesson on pool safety for other parents. They have a fence around their yard, but there was no security gate around the in-ground pool.

Elianna was always adamant about wearing her floaties or life vest, DePasquale said, so he does not believe she tried to swim on her own. She might have been chasing her doll.

"We don't think that she went into the water to go swimming," DePasquale said. "Most likely, she tried to put her baby doll in the water or her baby doll fell into the water."

But doctors told the parents that Elianna was at the age when toddlers start to try things on their own.

"The doctors told us around the age of 2, children become far more independent and curious, and think that they can do these things on their own when they can't yet," DePasquale said.

The blond Elianna liked to blow bubbles and scoot down slides at the park. A neighbor, Dylan Fay, recalled seeing her play in the yard with her dogs and her parents.

"She was just always smiling, giggly," said Fay, 18.

A family friend set up a donations web page to help defray the cost of Elianna's funeral. More information can be found on the Elianna DePasquale page on Facebook.

She will be buried Saturday, but the family is considering a private service.

DePasquale said he wants the story to be public so it can help other parents. No matter how vigilant they think they are, he said, all mothers and fathers must be sure to maintain their guard at all times.

"It only takes a second," DePasquale said.

Zachary T. Sampson can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8804. Twitter: @zacksampson.

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