Trial over drowning goes to jury

The Baltimore Sun

For three minutes yesterday, attorney Gary A. Wais sat in a chair in front of an Anne Arundel County jury, staring and silent.

That, he said, was how long 5-year-old Connor Freed went unnoticed in the pool at the Crofton Country Club while he drowned.

"During those three minutes, Connor was drowning in their pool," Wais told the jury. "The lifeguard that was on duty was a 16-year-old rookie. ... She was a kid. To not see a child ... is outrageous. This is not a case of negligence. This is a case of gross negligence."

The jury did not reach a verdict yesterday in the $20 million wrongful death lawsuit filed by the Davidsonville boy's parents. The suit alleges that the pool management company hired by the country club had failed to properly train employees or adequately staff the pool, and that a family friend who was supervising the boy had been negligent. Jury deliberations are expected to resume Monday.

During the five-day trial, jurors heard testimony from the teenage lifeguard on duty at the time of the boy's death, experts on drowning and Connor's parents, Thomas Freed and Debra Neagle Webber.

Connor, who could not swim, was not wearing a life vest at the time of his drowning about 4:30 p.m. June 22, 2006. He was at the pool with a family friend, Paul Carroll, then 36, and two other children.

Carroll said in court that Connor had asked to use the bathroom, and instead of taking all three children out of the pool and accompanying him to the restroom, he allowed Connor to take off his life vest and walk to the bathroom himself. Connor was found floating in the pool minutes later.

He was transported to Anne Arundel Medical Center by ambulance and died there.

Steven R. Migdal, lawyer for Hunt Valley-based DRD Pool Service Inc., argued that expert testimony suggested that Connor was likely submerged and not visible to pool staff.

"No pool management can guarantee the safety of all its patrons at all times," Migdal said.

Lawyers for the parents, Wais and H. Briggs Bedigian, contended that the pool management firm failed to follow its own policy to ensure that enough lifeguards were on duty and were properly monitoring swimmers.

"In total, this pool was a disaster waiting to happen and this family didn't deserve it," Bedigian said. "This isn't about money. [The pool management company] want[s] a pass. They want a get-away-free card. That's why we're here. They deserve to hear what they did ... was wrong."

For the first time, Carroll apologized to members of Connor's family, who cried during much of yesterday's closing arguments.

"I haven't had the opportunity, but I'd like to take the opportunity to tell Tom and Debbie I'm sorry," Carroll said.

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