City officials won't comment on Mervo death


Baltimore officials clamped a tight lid yesterday on the case of Derrick White, the asthmatic 15-year-old who died at a public school swimming pool Friday.

From Nancy Havranek, the teacher who pulled Derrick out of 11 feet of water, to Douglas Neilson, the school system's official spokesman, to Superintendent Richard C. Hunter, to Neal Janey, the city solicitor, the message was the same: no comment.

Dr. Hunter and Mr. Neilson both said Mr. Janey ordered them not to talk about Derrick's death or the school system's investigation.

Clinton R. Coleman, spokesman for Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, said the mayor himself had asked that no one discuss the case until the probe is over.

"He didn't think it would be helpful for bits and pieces of information that is not necessarily [true] to filter out," Mr. Coleman said. "His concern is that we get to the bottom of what happened."

"I'm not in a position to discuss with you what I've discussed with the school system," Mr. Janey told The Sun. "They are my clients."

The officials' refusal to talk about Derrick's death extends not only to reporters but to Derrick's mother as well. Bobbie White said last night that she has yet to receive an explanation for her son's death, although Mayor Schmoke stopped by her apartment in the 4900 block of Crenshaw Avenue Saturday and offered to find private funds to pay for Derrick's burial.

Derrick was taking part in a swim class at Mergenthaler Vocational-Technical High School, where he was a ninth-grader, when he apparently hit his head on the side of the pool and slipped under the water. He was in the class despite a letter his mother said she had written to the school asking that he be excused.

She said she was afraid that because of his asthma, which had recently flared up, he might be susceptible to pneumonia.

Whom that letter was delivered to and whether it has turned up since Derrick's death were among the questions that city officials refused to address yesterday.

Another question that went unanswered -- but for a different reason -- was the cause of Derrick's death. An autopsy performed by Dr. Frank Peretti of the medical examiner's office was inconclusive, which means that Derrick may not have died from drowning but from some other cause. Dr. Peretti said he had ordered additional tests, the results of which should be in by Thursday.

Asthma by itself is unlikely to lead to drowning, a medical expert said yesterday. In fact, several champion swimmers, including Olympic gold-medal winner Mark Spitz, suffer from the disorder.

But what may be the thorniest question has to do with the amount of time Derrick spent under water.

According to the police report, he was in water about 4 feet deep when he tried to jump out, evidently hitting his head on the concrete and falling to the bottom. A classmate who saw him thought at first he was clowning. Another realized he was in trouble and called for one of the two teachers at poolside.

But with between 60 and 70 students in the pool, the teachers did not hear her. Finally, the student ran the length of the pool to where the teachers were standing.

Ms. Havranek, the police said, went to help Derrick. One or two other students had already gone into the water to try to assist him, unsuccessfully. By the time Ms. Havranek reached him, he had somehow drifted into the deep end. She stripped down to her bathing suit and dove in to bring him up.

She began to administer cardiopulmonary resuscitation. The school's athletic director, Woodrow Williams, was alerted and he called for an ambulance.

Capt. Calvin Johnson of the Fire Department said yesterday that the call came in at 11:25 a.m. He said an engine company and an ambulance were dispatched a minute later, and arrived at the school at 11:29 a.m. and 11:30 a.m. respectively, according to department logs.

The police report, based on interviews with the students and teachers present, places Derrick's accident at about 11:10 a.m.

But Mr. Neilson had said Friday that the accident probably occurred about 11:20 a.m., just five minutes before the call to the 911 emergency number. He said that the teachers were signaling to students that it was time to leave the pool and get dressed when they realized Derrick was in trouble. That would have been about 15 minutes before the 11:35 a.m. bell marking the end of the period, he said.

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