Globe Editorial

At state pool, a horrible death and many lingering questions

July 2, 2011

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THERE ARE almost no words to describe the tragedy and utter horror surrounding the drowning death of Marie Joseph at a public pool in Fall River. News reports suggest that Joseph, 36, may have suffered some injury while going down a slide into the pool. A child may have tried to notify personnel at the pool Sunday afternoon, but no one tended to her. She died, and her body lay in an increasingly cloudy pool until it was discovered on Tuesday. Shockingly, the pool, operated by the state Department of Conservation and Recreation, had been inspected by city health inspectors the day before the body was discovered. They simply noted that the water seemed murky.

This is not the plot of a horror movie. Joseph almost surely could have been saved. Instead, her decomposing body lay there for days while hundreds of swimmers and safety personnel enjoyed the pool. The pool’s permit, it turned out, had expired six months ago. State energy and environmental affairs secretary Richard Sullivan, who oversees the recreation department, described this whole event as a systemic failure. This is both obvious and an understatement.

It all defies explanation. There is a need for an expeditious, across-the-board review of lifeguard training and qualifications, inspector certification standards, slide safety, and just about everything else that went wrong last weekend. Disturbing cases such as this provide the necessary focus to ensure that public pools are given the appropriate resources so that the thousands of Massachusetts residents who enjoy them are safe and secure.

All state pools deeper than 2 feet were closed while the state began investigating Joseph’s death. But they were expected to be open this weekend. That’s appropriate: These pools are an important part of many communities, and provide necessary relief on hot summer days.

The fact that the Fall River pool did not have a proper permit is probably a bit of a red herring. There is no evidence that inspections alone could have prevented Joseph’s death; but there were many other links in the chain of circumstances that led to her death that could have been prevented. The state’s promise to have a thorough and completely transparent review is absolutely necessary - and, again, absolutely obvious.