2 drownings add to summer toll

  • Article by: LAURIE BLAKE and ALLIE SHAH , Star Tribune staff writers
  • Updated: August 16, 2011 - 11:13 PM

The drowning deaths of a 26-year-old man and a 9-year-old in Plymouth are the latest signs of a surge in water fatalities this year. Authorities say swimming-friendly weather is a likely factor.

The screams were different than the usual sounds of horseplay that Phil and Jennifer Geertsema often hear from the swimming pool at their Plymouth apartment building.

They moved toward the screen door and heard a frantic voice yelling, "Help! Help! My sister!'" Jennifer Geertsema recalled.

They raced to the pool.

But in just a few minutes Monday, despite heroic efforts, two more victims were added to Minnesota's unusually deadly summer in the water.

So far this year, 34 drownings have been recorded by the Department of Natural Resources, up from 21 at the same time last year. It's also up from 26 in 2009 and 27 in 2008.

Hennepin County recorded eight drownings in July, the most in 10 years. There have been 15 so far this summer, compared with just six in all of last year. County officials called a press conference Tuesday to plead for greater awareness of swimming safety practices.

"Water is extremely unforgiving," said Maj. Jeff Storms of the Hennepin County Sheriff's Department. "A drowning occurs very quickly. You may read one page of your book and someone could be under water."

As the Geertsemas raced to the pool at Lancaster Village Apartments in Plymouth, the apartment manager, standing at the pool gate, waved them over.

"I can't swim," she told them.

At the bottom of the pool's 9-foot deep end were the bodies of a man and a girl. Authorities said later that they believe the man had jumped into the water to try to save the girl.

Phil Geertsema took off his glasses and dove in.

"I grabbed one of them under each arm," he recalled. "I don't remember anything in between."

When he surfaced, he hoisted the man first and then the girl, receiving a hand from the apartment maintenance man who helped lift the bodies out of the water.

"I couldn't lift them both up," Phil Geertsema said. "We lifted him first. Then we grabbed the little girl, lifted her all the way up. The male, his lower half was still in the water. I grabbed his legs and pushed him over."

Once out of the water, the couple tried CPR, hoping to revive the pair. Minutes later, paramedics and police arrived.

Despite the Geertsemas' efforts, the man and the girl did not survive. Jennifer Geertsema said she heard the girl who had been yelling for help tell police that her sister was not a strong swimmer.

The man was identified by Richard Sondah, board chairman of the Organization of Liberians in Minnesota, as Moses Sneh, 26, a Liberian immigrant who worked as an auto mechanic. The girl was 9-year-old Mortix Davies, a Liberian national visiting with her sister, Cheadee Davies, who was Sneh's fiancee, Sondah said.

The pool was inspected Tuesday by the Minnesota Department of Health, Environmental Health Services and by the Hennepin County Human Services and Public Health Department. "They found all safety regulations and life-saving equipment available and in working order," said Joel Carver, spokesman for CSM Corp. of Minneapolis, which owns the apartment building. He said the assistant property manager and the maintenance technician responded first to the incident.

While authorities investigated the circumstances of Monday's incident, water-safety officials speculated that the unusual heat may be at fault for bringing more people to pools and lakes.

"We are definitely above average for drownings," said Tim Smalley, water safety specialist for the DNR. "We are having a beautiful summer. Fantastic weather. Warm, humid weather tends to bring people to the lake to cool off."

Smalley stressed swimming with a buddy. "Most of the drownings we see is one person in the water and no one is really watching that person."

Storms urged people to wear life jackets around water. Never has he recovered a drowning victim who had a life jacket on, he said. He stressed staying vigilant and keeping eyes on the water if supervising a child.

Officials also urged that boaters wear life jackets and to avoid alcohol when swimming or boating.

lblake@startribune.com ashah@startribune.com

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  • The pool at Lancaster Village Apartments in Plymouth where two people drowned was closed Tuesday.

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