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Santa Ana Boy, 3, Is 18th Child to Drown in County This Year

September 08, 1986|KRISTINA LINDGREN | Times Staff Writer

A 3-year-old Santa Ana boy, whose mother found him at the bottom of an apartment complex swimming pool, became the 18th child to drown in Orange County this year--now the worst year on record for child drownings.

Juan Carlos Urrostiqui was pronounced dead at 10:19 p.m. Saturday at UCI Medical Center in Orange, Santa Ana police and coroner's officials said Sunday. He was last seen 15 minutes before his mother and neighbors discovered him at the bottom of the pool's deep end about 9:45 p.m., Santa Ana Police Lt. Robert Helton said.

3rd Child Drowning in Week

It was the third drowning of a child in a week and brought to 18 the number of children to die in Orange County pools and spas so far this year, supervising Deputy Coroner Richard Slaughter said. The previous record was 17 for all of 1983.

Whenever a child drowns, "It is a wasted death, one that shouldn't occur," Slaughter said. "It's tragic. . . . People need to be told to watch their children if there's water around. I've raised three kids, and now I have grandchildren. When there's water around, I don't take my eyes off them."

Drowning has become the leading cause of accidental deaths among children between the ages of 1 and 4 in California, surpassing traffic deaths, which have decreased since a law was passed requiring children to be in safety seats.

A 1985 state government study found that 140 children under the age of 4 drown each year and another 40 children are institutionalized with permanent brain damage and mental retardation resulting from near drownings.

Drownings Up Sharply

In Orange County, with more than 100,000 backyard pools and spas, drownings and near drownings of children have increased sharply. In 1979, five children drowned. In 1983, the number soared to 17, with 34 near drownings. In 1984, 11 children drowned, all but one of them under the age of 5.

Despite public awareness campaigns about the hazards of backyard pools and lessons in emergency resuscitation techniques, an official for Childrens Hospital of Orange County said Sunday that more children had drowned by the middle of this summer than in all of 1985.

"This is a serious public health issue in Orange County," said Dr. Ralph W. Rucker, director of pediatric pulmonary services at the hospital.

"The death rate this year is far higher than last year. And yet this the year we've been getting a lot more coverage and notification out to the community."

If a child can get near a shallow pool, he said, "Absolutely the only safety precaution is constant awareness, knowing where your child is at all times."

Three drowning deaths of children within a week was "unusual, though not unprecedented," Rucker said.

Thirteen-month-old Chivon Kathleen Baird of Westminster died early Wednesday at CHOC after falling into her family's swimming pool the previous Saturday. Westminster police said the pool was unattended when the child fell in and there was no gate or fence separating it from the patio area where family and friends were gathered.

On Friday, 2 1/2-year-old Grahm Hart of Johannesburg, South Africa, drowned in an outdoor spa at the home of a UC Irvine faculty member whom his family was visiting. The boy's mother, Adele Hart, had thought the child was inside the house, a university spokeswoman said.

On Saturday night, Lt. Helton said the Urrostiqui boy had wandered from his mother in the apartment complex where they lived in the 2800 block of North Bristol Street. The mother, whose name and age were not released, was joined by neighbors in the frantic search.

A neighbor pulled the child out, and minutes later Police Officer Ray Ojeda began administering cardiopulmonary resuscitation, Helton said.

Paramedics continued trying to revive the boy while they drove to UCI Medical Center in Orange, Helton said.

An investigation is continuing, authorities said.

Unlike Saturday night's drowning, Rucker said, "The problem is usually not in apartment pools; the problem is in your own backyard." He said people should not have pools until their youngest child has turned 5.

"The vast majority of our drowned children are in the 2- to 3-year-old age group," Rucker said. Children over 4 or 5 "seem to be more aware of the water and they can stand in the shallow end."

Rucker said the "ongoing tragedy of near drownings" is just as acute, with many children who are severely brain damaged and retarded being housed at a cost of $100,000 annually at state hospitals in Costa Mesa and Pomona.

"There's going to have to be something done," he said. "I don't know what it is. We have done our utmost to make people aware of the dangers. I would imagine before long the (state) Legislature is going to have to get involved or the (county) Board of Supervisors."

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