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Experts say area failed to have properly trained, positioned lifeguards on location
By Preston Knightemail@example.com
WOODSTOCK -- A New Hampshire aquatics expert has determined that Half Moon Beach failed to have properly trained and positioned lifeguards when a 6-year-old girl drowned there in August 2008, according to Shenandoah County Circuit Court documents.
A five-day jury trial has been scheduled for March 28 through April 1 in a $24 million lawsuit brought by the victim's father against Half Moon Beach Park Inc., Skyline Paintball Inc., Strasburg Land LLC and Dunmore Land LLC. Dakota Lee Hansen, 6, of Culpeper, drowned on Aug. 9, 2008, during a family visit to the former quarry on Radio Station Road in Strasburg. Her father, Edward Hansen, filed the lawsuit in November 2008.
In court documents filed in recent weeks, Richard Dulaney, the attorney representing Edward Hansen, submitted an identification of expert witnesses, with Gerald Dworkin, of Lifesaving Resources Inc. in Harrisville, N.H., among them. Dworkin, a technical consultant for aquatics safety and water resources who has consulted in more than 225 drowning and aquatic injury litigation cases as a plaintiff and defense expert, reviewed eyewitness statements, a report from the Strasburg Police Department and other information before finding the resort at fault.
According to court records, Dakota, her parents and four siblings visited the park, and the girl had been playing in the water for about 30-45 minutes when, while near the rope at the boundary of the shallow non-swimmers area, she stepped off a ledge into deep water and was unable to recover and swim to shore. Lifeguards did not see the girl progress to the area, records state.
Once in water over her head, Dakota became distressed and drowned, again without being recognized by lifeguards, documents state. There was no lifeguard in the elevated stand immediately before or during the onset of the girl's submersion, they state, and several people mentioned that the four lifeguards on duty were texting, talking on cell phones or assigned to handle boat rentals. The stand was the only one covering the 130-foot span of the swimming area.
Less than a month earlier, Nathaniel B. King, 26, of Marshall, drowned at the park, and that incident should have put Half Moon Beach "on notice" about the risks there, Dulaney states in a filing.
According to Dworkin's Nov. 16 report, Dakota was in 8-foot water where the public does not know of drastic depth change. She was discovered lying motionless by an 11-year-old girl, not a lifeguard, he adds.
"Had vigilant, strategically positioned, and appropriately trained lifeguards been on duty, they would have and should have prevented [Dakota] from progressing to the deeper water with such a severe drop-off," Dworkin states.
He states that the park also lacked proper equipment to treat victims, and among other issues was a failure to assess the number of patrons, which was between 100 and 150. Dworkin notes that small children are attracted to water and have little concept of the dangers associated with it, and drowning is a silent death in which victims do not call out
After Dakota's death, the Strasburg Police Department, with assistance from state police and the town's fire and rescue departments, conducted a safety evaluation. It recommended that three lifeguard stations be manned at all times, and another lifeguard be posted on the floating docks when there are more than 40 swimmers.
Also, it advised that automated external defibrillator machines be located at two lifeguard stations, and two-way radios, rather than cell phones, should be used to communicate.
"Cell phones are a distraction and should not be used on duty," the report states.