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Community News: South

WATTS : Close Call Raises Concerns Over Pool

July 30, 1995|STEPHEN GREGORY

The red-and-white signs threatening six months in jail and a $500 fine for trespassing at 109th Street Park's swimming pool might just as well be invisible.

Almost every day, neighborhood youngsters and teen-agers jump the eight-foot fence around the pool at 1464 E. 109th St. to beat the heat and frolic in the water after hours.

That act of summertime mischief, however, nearly proved fatal for an 11-year-old boy who almost drowned recently before being rescued by two teen-agers and a local handyman.

The incident has cast a spotlight not only on the rescuers as bona fide neighborhood heroes, but also on the need to seal off the facility from pool-crashers.

"Every time I see them, I'm always afraid something might happen," said 36-year-old Kim Thomas, who lives across the street from the pool.

On July 20, something almost did.

The evening started out like most others. Tyrone Williams and other residents had gathered on their front porches to relax. Young men, like Sergio and Marco Reyes, were busy playing a pickup soccer game at a nearby field. And, as usual, a group of youngsters had scrambled over the pool fence to swim after lifeguards and fee-collectors had locked up the facility for the day at 5 p.m.

The peaceful scene, however, was shattered about 6:30 p.m. when the playful yelps of youngsters in the pool turned to screams of "Help! My cousin's drowning!"

In an instant, Williams--who used to be a lifeguard at the pool in the 1960s--dashed off his porch and ran for the facility. At the same time, Marco and Sergio, 17 and 16, left their game and also sprinted for the pool. As he ran, Sergio remembered thinking he had learned to swim at the same facility only a year earlier.

The three climbed the fence to confront the chilling sight of the boy lying at the bottom of the deep end, nine feet below. "He wasn't moving or anything," Marco recalled.

The victim's frantic playmates, all about the same age, stood by helplessly as the men dove into the water to retrieve the boy. His parents declined to release his name for privacy reasons.

Together Williams and the Reyes brothers pulled the boy to the surface and lifted his unconscious body out of the pool.

An anxious crowd that had formed inside and outside the fence grew quiet as Williams began blowing air into the boy's mouth and Sergio began to push down on his chest to revive him.

Silence gave way to cheers and applause three minutes later when the boy managed a cough and struggled to consciousness.

Paramedics came and took the boy to Martin Luther King-Drew Medical Center, where he was hospitalized for three days.

"I feel 10 feet tall," Williams said of the feat. "It's really a good feeling."

Sergio agreed. "People ask me if I'm going to get money, and I say no, I didn't do it for money. I did it for the boy's life.

Los Angeles Fire Department Capt. Ron McChristy said the heroics could result in official commendations for the men. "It's way too early in the game," he said. "But it might be something that comes down from the department later."

While the incident has generated praise for the rescuers, it has also sparked concern among neighbors over how to prevent similar occurrences in the future.

Residents on nearby 110th Street, for example, have discussed circulating a petition asking for more police and park ranger patrols to keep the youths out.

Department of Recreation and Parks spokeswoman Mary Braunwarth said officials are already looking into increasing patrols.

She also said supervisors at 109th Street Park have submitted a work order to raise the perimeter fence to 10 feet.

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