Before his mother could stop him, Lonnell Bradley was out the door Saturday in his red, white and blue swimming trunks.
Lonnell, 6, ran to the pool at the apartment complex, where he waded and splashed in the shallow end with a group of children ages 4 to 11 before hopping out to jump into the deep end. It took several minutes Saturday afternoon for anyone to notice that he never surfaced.
"He was on his stomach laying down at the bottom of the pool," said Fabre Murray, 11. "Everyone thought he was playing, but I told them, "He's drowning. He's drowning.' "
Lonnell, who was in critical condition Saturday night at All Children's Hospital, is the third St. Petersburg child in a week to die or be critically injured in a pool accident. A fourth person, a 35-year-old tourist, was also in critical condition Saturday night after nearly drowning in the Gulf of Mexico off St. Pete Beach.
"If I had the money, I would just teach lessons free to all the kids," said Gayle Barko, aquatics director for the YMCA in downtown St. Petersburg. "The only prevention is supervision."
When Lonnell nearly drowned, several adults were standing outside their apartments at Bent Pines condominiums, 3160 61st Ter. S, but none was watching the pool. A woman who had been in the pool with her children had just left, telling another parent to get the rest of the children.
When the kids in the shallow end screamed, several adults came running, pulled Lonnell from the pool and cradled him in their arms until paramedics arrived just after 2:30 p.m.
"I don't understand why this happened to him," said his mother, Marcia, who had wanted her son to wait for her and his younger sister. "He's such a good boy. All I want him to do is live and I'll take care of him for the rest of my life. I'll never take him for granted."
Only 21 minutes after Lonnell nearly drowned Saturday afternoon, a 35-year-old man who was swimming with his son disappeared off St. Pete Beach. His 10-year-old yelled for help, and someone pulled Joao F. Pinteus to the beach near the 4500 block of Gulf Boulevard, said St. Pete Beach police Officer Ray Anthony.
Pinteus, who is on vacation with his family and is not a strong swimmer, was taken to Palms of Pasadena Hospital. He was listed in critical condition.
Lonnell and Pinteus are the latest victims in an extraordinarily dangerous week around water in Pinellas County. It began last Sunday when 6-year-old Dontrale Cooper fell into an abandoned pool at an apartment complex and drowned.
Wednesday, 11-year-old Aaron Hopewell fell into a pool. Aaron, who did not know how to swim, is being treated at All Children's Hospital, which is not releasing his condition.
After Lonnell was pulled from the pool Saturday, Bent Pines residents said children gather at the swimming pool frequently, easily opening the fence that surrounds the pool and ignoring signs that say they must be with an adult.
"There's no one to stop them," said Tim Murray, Fabre's father. "I hate to say it, but I thought it was going to happen sooner or later. Kids come in and out of here all the time. They don't have to be swimming. Any one of them could fall in."
Drowning is the leading cause of death for young children in Florida. In 1994, the state had the third-highest drowning fatality rate in the country. That year, 380 people died in the water.
Skip Maxwell, who has been a Clearwater Beach lifeguard for seven years, urges children to use the buddy system. At the beach, he said, children should try to swim near a lifeguard and close to shore.
"A lot of parents aren't really paying attention to their children at the beach," he said. "They're here on vacation and they want to relax and they neglect their parenting duties."
Pools should be covered when they are not in use and should be surrounded by a 6-foot fence with a locked gate. CPR instructions should be posted, and a pole or foam ring should be kept nearby to rescue someone from the center of the pool.
"It's (drowning) so easy to prevent in a pool," Maxwell said. "It's such a controlled situation. People just need to be cautious."
_ Information from Times files was used in this report.
Pool safety tips
Instruct babysitters about pool hazards and the use of protective devices. Emphasize the need for constant supervision.
Never leave an unsupervised child near a pool or spa.
Do not use flotation devices as substitutes for adult supervision.
If a child is missing, check the pool first. Scan the whole pool.
Enroll children 3 and older in swimming lessons. Do not consider them drown-proof just because they have taken lessons.
Learn cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR). Babysitters and other caretakers, including grandparents and siblings, also should know CPR.
Keep rescue equipment and a telephone by the pool, with emergency telephone numbers and safety rules posted nearby.
Remove toys and other play equipment from a pool not in use because they could attract children.
Install a four-sided fence to separate a pool from a house. Make sure the gate lock is 54 inches high so children under 4 cannot reach it.
Never prop open pool gates.
Install an alarm that sounds an alarm when doors leading to the pool are opened.
Source: U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission and the National Spa and Pool Institute and Suncoast Safe Kids Coalition