Pavan Dhanireddy remembers peering into the swimming pool at the Quality Inn & Suites Seattle Center on June 30 with firefighters searching frantically for his drowned friend Tesfaye Girman Deboch.
But the hotel pool was so murky they couldn’t even see to the bottom of it to find Deboch, and now the Seattle Fire Department and Public Health – Seattle & King County are doing a further investigation.
It wasn’t until nearly three hours later that the body of Deboch, a 27-year-old Washington State University student, was pulled from the murky water.
The incident happened around 5:30 p.m. that day at the Quality Inn & Suites Seattle Center located at the cross street of John St and Aurora Ave N. Deboch, 27, had been swimming at the deep end of the pool while Dhanireddy had been in the shallow end because he couldn’t swim. Minutes later, Dhanireddy saw Deboch splashing and flailing his hands frantically for help and realized he was drowning. He ran to the front desk for help.
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“I was asking ‘please help my friend,’” Dhanireddy said.
Responders were first called to the scene at 5:35 p.m. according to the Seattle Fire Department 911 call log for that evening. However, when firefighters conducted a grid search of the pool using a rescue hook and thermal imaging camera they were unable to find the body. Dhanireddy said responders used sticks to find the body but no one actually went in the pool to check further.
“There were a lot of chemicals and you couldn’t see the bottom of the pool,” he said. “We were trying to see the body and we couldn’t see anything.”
After a search of the entire pool, officials decided Deboch had left the pool and hotel and declared him missing even though his shoes, shirt, wallet and phone were still close by. Firefighters and police also searched Deboch’s hotel room.
But they were back at the hotel barely three hours later at 8:12 p.m. upon receiving another call of a drowning with CPR in progress.
Another friend, Ryan Bain, had arrived at the hotel about a half-hour after Deboch was declared missing, according to a report from Moscow-Pullman Daily News.
Bain, Dhanireddy, Deboch and 11 other WSU graduate students in the School of Economic Sciences were in Seattle attending the Western Economics Association International Conference.
Bain said he and his friends were able to watch some security camera footage of the lobby, which included a limited view of the pool. He said they also called nearby hospitals, looking for Deboch. When they couldn’t find him at the hospitals or on the security camera footage, they determined he must still be in the pool.
“I just had a horrible, sinking, sick feeling,” Bain said.
Bain and his colleagues began searching the pool again with the pole. A retired firefighter sitting nearby heard about the situation, and asked the people still swimming in the pool to leave and asked the hotel staff to drain the pool.
Bain said the retired firefighter realized the pole was too short to reach the bottom of the deep end, so he attached a squeegee to the end of the pole and searched again. Shortly after, the man felt the pole touch Deboch’s body.
Upon arriving, the firefighters continued CPR and soon discovered it was Deboch.
“Since it is now clear that the drowning victim was in the pool during the earlier search, the department is reviewing the incident and will determine whether to revise any water rescue procedures,” according to a released statement from the Fire Department.
The hotel manager at the Quality Inn & Suites declined to comment on the incident.
But this isn’t the hotel’s first trouble with its pool, according to Public Health – Seattle & King County water recreation inspection reports.
All 1,800 pools in the Seattle area are required to be inspected at least twice a year by the 40 person food and pool facility inspection team under Public Health. On May 23, 2012, inspectors closed the pool for having its chlorine levels at 20 ppm, twice the limit it’s allowed to be. The water was also found to be cloudy looking. Officials reopened the pool on July 26, 2012 but even then the chlorine level was 0.5 ppm off the 1.5 ppm minimum amount it was supposed to be but it didn’t warrant closing the pool.
The hotel just had its first inspection of the year on May 28, 2013 and the department closed the pool for having no chlorine in it. The report also cited the water was cloudy and hazy, the handrails weren’t secure and the chemical storage wasn’t locked properly. It opened two days later after hotel management called to say changes had been made but pool owners still needed to work on the chemistry balance in the pool as the alkalinity was 50 ppm and should’ve been between 80 and 120 ppm. But it wasn’t a violation that warranted closing the pool.
Because of all the chemicals needed to be in pools, if they’re not properly balanced, the water can become too cloudy, said James Apa, spokesperson for Public Health – Seattle & King County.
But when the department learned of Deboch’s drowning on July 9, officials went to have a look at the pool and on July 10 closed the pool again. This time for shower temperatures being too high, emergency shutoffs not operating properly and emergency equipment being blocked by a towel rack. Inspectors again noted the cloudiness of the water.
But there’s a key method to seeing if the water is too hazy.
“If you can’t see the drain at the bottom of the pool it’s your responsibility to self-close,” Apa said. “We can’t be there everyday and every moment so the owner and manager has the responsibility of checking for this.”
Apa said the department’s main priority is the safety of the public and plan to look even more closely at the facility than they did in the past. they continue to look at the Quality Inn & Suite’s pool. He said it’s not common for inspectors to have to close the same facility more than once per year.
Dhanireddy described Deboch, an Ethiopian native, as a smart and friendly person with lots of friends. He said Deboch had just finished his third year in the PhD program at WSU and would’ve been entering his last year in the fall. He had taught a combination of macroeconomics, money and banking and mathematics courses. He was also pursuing a master’s in statistics.
A memorial service will be held for Deboch on Friday, July 12, 2013 at 3:00 p.m. in the Ensminger Pavilion at WSU. The school is also starting a scholarship fund in his name.
Marissa Evans 206-464-3701 or email@example.com