Cape pool where kids drowned was exempt from inspections

CAPE CORAL, Fla. The property where two young children drowned in a pool last week has been exempt from Department of Health inspections for the past 35 years, department records show.

A 3-year-old boy and a 1-year-old girl were pronounced dead at Cape Coral Hospital after their father found them motionless in the pool at the Aurora Townhouse condominiums on the 1000 block of Southwest 47th Terrace the night of May 15.

The father, Eric Merchant Sr., said he didn’t know how they got into the pool, which was without a barrier around it, while he was in the bathroom.

A barrier that had been around the pool was removed in January but wasn’t replaced until the city ordered property representatives to put one up shortly after the drowning. The new barrier has already failed two city inspections.

The city inspects pool barriers when they’re built to ensure they meet code, but the health department is in charge of regular inspections, city spokeswoman Connie Barron said.

“Well, it’s no question that the owner of the pool and anybody that manages the pool is responsible for it,” Coral Gables-based attorney Michael Haggard said.

Haggard isn’t representing anyone involved in the drowning, but he’s worked for many families who’ve lost children in drowning incidents and is passionate about pool safety.

“There’s ways, through layers of protection with barriers, with pool alarms, with pool covers, to really prevent these types of cases from ever occurring,” Haggard said. “And unfortunately they continue to occur because of the negligence of landlords and condo associations and property managers.”

Twice annual inspections are key, Haggard said. It’s unclear why inspections haven’t been mandatory for the Aurora Townhouse condo pool since 1982.

“Even though you have a pool that is in absolute violation of safety standards — safety standards that involve children and life and death — you have a lapse and therefore you have a pool that stays open when it shouldn’t be, and you have a tragedy like this,” Haggard said.

 

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