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Orange County

Unfenced Pool Put Toddler at Risk

The father of a Fullerton girl who nearly drowned was having trouble installing a new barrier. She remains hospitalized.

November 09, 2003|Mike Anton | Times Staff Writer

The father of a Fullerton toddler, who was pronounced dead and later revived after nearly drowning in the family's backyard pool, had recently removed an old fence surrounding it and had attempted to install a new one.

But Gabriel Jespersen discovered that the prefabricated barrier he purchased from a home-improvement store needed additional parts to be secured and had yet to finish the project, said neighbor Glen Cabral.

"All the parts he needed weren't there and he was having problems locating the parts," Cabral said. "It was one of these do-it-yourself things. But it was impossible. He spent days working [on it], and couldn't do it."

Mackayala Jespersen remained in critical condition Saturday at Children's Hospital of Orange County, a day after her mother pulled the 20-month-old from the pool.

"She is responding to Mom and Dad -- to the sound of their voices and to their touch," said hospital spokeswoman Denise Almazan. The girl's parents, she said, declined to comment.

Mackayala was given CPR by Fullerton police who arrived at the home within two minutes of being called Friday morning. Paramedics took the girl, who was still not breathing, to Anaheim Memorial Hospital, where emergency-room doctors pronounced her dead. But about 40 minutes later, a police detective taking routine photos of the girl's body noticed her chest move. She was later transferred to Children's Hospital.

Mackayala's mother, Melissa, had left her and her twin sister unattended for about 10 minutes Friday to wake another daughter. When the mother returned to the living room, she noticed that Mackayala was gone and the sliding screen door to the backyard was ajar.

She found Mackayala face-down in the pool's 52-degree water, jumped in, retrieved her and called 911.

Medical experts say it's not uncommon for infants or toddlers to survive such an incident -- especially in cold water.

"It was an accident. There's no negligence involved," Police Sgt. Ron Gillett said Saturday.

Cabral, who lives across the street, said Mackayala's parents are "great people ... very attentive to the kids. All they do is talk about their kids."

He said Gabriel Jespersen took down an old, corroded wrought-iron fence around the pool "a few weeks ago" and intended to replace it. But parts to secure the new fence's top beam into the side posts weren't included. The new fence remains in the family's garage.

"If you don't use a safety device, it's like it was never invented," said Marcia Kerr, a spokeswoman for Orange County Drowning Prevention Network whose 2-year-old son drowned in 1988 after a pool cover was left off temporarily to allow cleaning chemicals to air out. "It's got to be in place every second.... This is the strategy for the toddler age -- keeping a barrier around the pool."

A federal study, she added, found that nearly half of young pool-drowning victims were last seen inside the house.

Nationwide, about 350 children under age 5 drown in residential pools each year, she said.

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