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LIFEGUARD MISTOOK LIFELESS GIRL

Among changes proposed for Tampa's city pools: change the black lane markers on the bottom to increase visibility.

A lifeguard thought he saw a T-shirt in the water.

It turned out to be the swimsuit of a drowning child.

Two months after 11-year-old Brittany Mills lost her life in a public pool, the city's risk manager, Michael Laperche, has recommended changes to the way pools operate.

Among the recommendations: Change the width of black lane markers on pool bottoms so that children with dark skin or clothing are more visible.

The report doesn't blame poor visibility for Brittany's drowning.

Brittany, African-American, wore a coral, two-piece swimsuit that day at the Cyrus Greene Pool. A lifeguard noticed her motionless body beneath 6 feet of water only after a whistle blew and the pool emptied for the next round of kids to swim.

City officials say they regret the incident, but call it unpreventable. "The lifeguards were following proper protocol and procedures," parks and recreation director Karen Palus said.

A newly completed autopsy concludes that no factors other than drowning caused the girl's death. Nothing in the investigation suggested foul play. There was no sign she had hit her head.

Brittany, a fifth-grader at Oak Park Elementary, had been in the pool for less than an hour, according to a chronology of the afternoon prepared by Palus.

Her mother told investigators that Brittany - 5 feet 4, 100 pounds - was a good swimmer who had attended swim classes. Brittany had no known medical problems.

On July 8, dozens of children swam while others waited on deck. As her group left the pool, lifeguard Tony Anderson, 29, spotted Brittany at the bottom of the deep end near his station. At first he thought he saw a T-shirt, said risk manager Laperche.

The lifeguard pulled her out unconscious. A supervisor on scene came to help perform CPR.

The three lifeguards on duty that day watched 25 to 35 children, well within the Red Cross' recommendation of one lifeguard per 25 children, Palus said.

Brittany was taken to St. Joseph's Hospital, where she was pronounced dead.

Reached by phone Friday, Brittany's mother, Arnita Mills, said she has "been going through a lot." She declined to comment further, though she said her daughter's name was spelled "Brittany," which differs from official records.

Laperche said the mother has hired an attorney.

He said none of his recommended changes would have prevented Brittany's death. "If you look at swim programs across the country it's common, unfortunately, that we'll have children die of accidental drowning every year," Laperche said.

Elisabeth Parker can be reached at eparker@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3431.

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