Northeast Tarrant

Family of drowned swimmer pushes for more water safety

Elise Cerami, an advanced competitive swimmer with the North Texas Nadadores based at the Carroll Aquatics Center, died June 20, 2016, after she was pulled unresponsive from the pool.
Elise Cerami, an advanced competitive swimmer with the North Texas Nadadores based at the Carroll Aquatics Center, died June 20, 2016, after she was pulled unresponsive from the pool. Handout

On the eve of the one-year anniversary of her daughter’s drowning death, Lori Cerami asked Carroll school board members to press for higher safety standards at the Carroll Aquatics Center.

Cerami’s 13-year-old daughter Elise died June 20, 2016, after being pulled unresponsive from the Aquatics Center pool during early morning swim practice for the North Texas Nadadores, a USA Swimming Club based in Southlake.

“Over the last year, I have spent every day thinking about Elise’s final swim at the CISD Aquatics Center and what I, as a parent, could have done to protect her,” Cerami said during the public comment portion of the June 19 board meeting. “To better understand water safety, I have become an advocate for drowning prevention, reading, speaking and sharing what I learn on the topic.”

As part of her efforts, Cerami took the American Red Cross Lifeguard training and the American Red Cross Safety Training for Swim Coaches. The lifeguard training is far more rigorous, especially with the amount of time spent on handling water emergencies, Cerami said.

She came to talk to trustees because of plans they approved May 15 to add staffing to further improve safety standards at the Aquatics Center.

In September, administrators doubled the number of lifeguards at the pool, but officials continued to review facility practices and procedures.

At the May 15 board meeting, Matt Miller, assistant superintendent for facility services, presented a proposal to add two new supervisory positions and adjust job descriptions and contract days to ensure that the lifeguard program received adequate management and oversight.

Miller said that Bill Christensen, the current aquatics manager and head coach of the North Texas Nadadores, asked that someone else take over as aquatics manager while he retains coaching duties.

Christensen, along with other staff members, administered CPR to Elise after she was pulled from the pool. Later that day, he was hospitalized with heart attack symptoms and required surgery.

Administration officials plan to announce in July a new aquatics manager with more than 30 years of experience, said Julie Thannum, assistant superintendent for board and community relations.

At the May 15 meeting, Miller said the aquatics manager position, along with a newly created position of swim school/event organizer, would be added to a water safety supervisor (formerly the operations manager) as the center’s management staff. The latter two positions also would be assistant high school swim coaches. The head high school swim coach’s contract days would be adjusted from 187 to 226, so he, too, could help manage lifeguards.

The extra supervision is needed because the facility is open seven days a week with very few holidays throughout the year, Miller said. The cost of the new positions and added days is estimated at $198,456 and would be partially covered by an increase in facility fees. Trustees voted unanimously to approve the positions and expenditures.

In his presentation, Miller said that all coaches would have American Red Cross Lifeguard certification and/or American Red Cross Safety Training for Swim Coaches.

Cerami said she objected to the “and/or” language in the presentation and urged officials to require the more thorough lifeguard certification for all coaches.

Miller said that in addition to the increase in staffing, the Aquatics Center would enroll in the American Red Cross Aquatic Examiner Service for facilities, which has examiners review facility safety and operations and conduct unannounced site visits to test staff members in emergency scenarios.

Two other speakers during public comments talked about water safety.

Hannah Decker, a swim coach and certified lifeguard, also recommended the more rigorous lifeguard certification for coaches.

Elise’s younger brother, Bryce Cerami, who just completed the third grade at Walnut Grove Elementary School and also swims, talked about the Swim4Elise Foundation, a charity the family started to encourage water safety and improve the sport of swimming.

“Even though you might know how to swim, making sure that someone is always watching is vital,” Bryce said.

A video from the Burleson Police Department shows how quickly and easily a small child can drown in a swimming pool, even when parents are nearby.

Sandra J. Engelland: 817-390-7323, @SandraEngelland