County denies mother's claims of lifeguard negligence at Bluffton pool

astice@islandpacket.comJuly 26, 2012 

A Bluffton woman says her son nearly drowned in a county-run pool and is seeking an apology.

The county, however, says it has investigated the incident and that the lifeguards did nothing wrong.

Carol Puryear's 7-year-old son, Jaysun, was on a Bluffton Boys & Girls Club excursion to the pool on the M.C. Riley Elementary School campus June 26, when a club staff member jumped in the water fully clothed to pull him out.

Molly Hornbeak Smith, the Bluffton Boys & Girls Club director, said the club has stopped going to that pool because of how the incident was handled. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, they now travel to a county pool in Beaufort where she feels the children are safer, she said.

Jaala Smith, the Boys & Girls Club staff member who rescued the boy, said the child jumped into the deep end while a lifeguard was giving a swim test to another club member. She says that as Jaysun began to flail, she screamed for lifeguards several times but no one responded. When the boy started sinking, she pulled him from the water herself.

County community services director Morris Campbell acknowledged that Smith jumped in the pool but said an investigation showed she was "overreacting," and lifeguards were prepared to respond if the boy was in danger.

The investigation was handled by the county's aquatic supervisor, Viki Hill, who was at the pool that day. Hill said she interviewed Smith, the child and the lifeguards assigned to the zone where the child was. Hill, who said she didn't see the incident unfold, said none of the four lifeguards at the pool heard Smith call for them. The child was not injured and continued swimming and playing for the rest of the afternoon, Hill said.

"The lifeguard who was doing the swim test heard a splash and turned around and that's how quickly (Smith) had jumped into the pool after the child," Hill said. "The lifeguard could have gotten to him.

"Believe me, if I thought my lifeguards should be reprimanded, they would be."

Smith said the child was sinking to the bottom of the deep end when she jumped in.

"I yelled 'lifeguard' literally four times at the top of my lungs and nobody moved," Smith said.

Puryear, who was not at the pool, said she has contacted county officials, up to deputy administrator Bryan Hill, to get assurances that a similar incident doesn't occur, but no one will acknowledge anything went wrong.

Hill said the internal assessment showed lifeguards didn't make an error.

Campbell agreed.

"We thought this situation had been resolved," Campbell said.

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