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Posted Wednesday, August 31, 2011
As the body of a drowned woman remained submerged in the bottom of a murky Fall River pool, staff in charge of the state-run swimming pool reported to agency brass that the “facility looks great,” according to documents obtained by the Herald.
“Fall River Pool — good opening weekend, no incidents or issues reported and facility looks great,” states a weekend field operations roundup of all Department of Conservation and Recreation’s public sites compiled by DCR communications dispatcher Rebecca Russ and e-mailed at 11:11 a.m. on June 27 to DCR Commissioner Edward M. Lambert Jr., Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Rick K. Sullivan Jr. and other agency officials.
A DCR investigation has found that on June 26 the Veterans Memorial Pool staff closed the deep end 12 minutes after Marie Joseph, 36, drowned — because it was cloudy but apparently without knowing her body was on the bottom — and kept the deep end closed though the public kept swimming in the shallow end for two days until her body was found.
The field report has troubled several top lawmakers who said the agency needs to conduct a top-to-bottom review of its reporting system.
“Somebody was absolutely not doing their job . . . and in doing so a woman lost her life,” said Sen. James Timility (D-Walpole), who heads the joint committee on public safety.
Sen. Mark C. Montigny (D-New Bedford), chairman of the post audit and oversight committee, questioned whether the report stemmed from incompetence, laziness or a deliberate attempt to cover up the pool’s dangerous water clarity — which state officials have said should have prevented the pool from being opened on the day Joseph drowned.
“It’s mind boggling to say everything looks clear,” Montigny said. “You’re playing with people’s lives.”
Lambert yesterday declined to identify which Fall River staffer provided Russ the update, citing an ongoing investigation by his agency and difficulty tracing the source of the information.
Former DCR regional director Brian Shanahan, who was forced to resign in July — along with the pool’s manager Justin Medeiros and assistant manager, Kevin Tavares — was normally responsible for providing the field reports but relied on district managers and other staff to collect the information, said DCR spokeswoman S.J. Port.
“Was it intentionally misleading or erroneous?” Lambert said of what he called the “inaccurate” report.
“Our own videotape shows that the pool should not have opened on Sunday. So it’s not accurate for us to have gotten a report on Monday morning that says everything is fine.”
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