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Faulty fence cited in boy's drowning

In his last school picture, Dontrale Cooper grins ever so slightly. His eyes dance with joy, smiling into the camera.

Now the photo will be used for his obituary.

The 6-year-old boy drowned Sunday in a apartment complex pool that has drawn harsh complaints from neighbors and city inspectors who cited the owners for having a faulty fence.

Dontrale, nicknamed "Jug" by relatives, lived at Sandalwood apartments on 37th Street S. Late Sunday afternoon, he and friends rode bicycles to the Hidden Cove Apartments at 3850 34th Ave S.

There, police say, he was playing near the edge of the kidney-shaped pool when he lost his balance and fell into the murky water.

The pool has been abandoned for months. When county health officials inspected it in January, records show, the pool had been closed by the owners. Small signs had been posted near the pool, telling people to keep out.

Michael Flanery, the health department's environment engineer, said Monday that the county had no jurisdiction over the pool because it had been closed.

When inspecting the pool in January, county officials found that the water pump was working. There was trash in the pool, but the fence was secure and the gate was locked.

Flanery said property owners in Florida are not required to drain their unused pools. With underground water tables so close to the surface, an empty pool would "pop right out of the ground," he said.

But on Monday, county officials said they hope to study the issue to decide what public-safety measures should be recommended.

State law does not require the pool to be enclosed by a fence, but city codes do.

Julie Weston, the city's codes manager, said Hidden Cove has a long history of violations. The fence is required to be 4-feet tall and the gates must be secured.

After the drowning, police found that the gate was locked by a chain but was disconnected by two hinges. Authorities reportedly closed the gate, setting it in place with cables.

But on Monday, city inspectors had another concern. The fence was mashed below 4 feet in several places, the likely result of people climbing over it.

In a citation mailed Monday to Lovelace, Roby & Co. in Winter Park, city inspectors said the fence was in disrepair, the top rail was bent and gates were neither self-closing or self-latching.

Dontrale attended kindergarten at Walshingham Elementary.

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