Drowning in cloudy hotel pool investigated

WSU student's body wasn't found for nearly 3 hours

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SEATTLE -- The Seattle Fire Department is reviewing why its first responders could not find a Washington State University student who had sunk to the bottom of a murky hotel swimming pool and eventually drowned, The Seattle Times reported Friday.

Tesfaye Girman Deboch, 27, died in the pool at the Quality Inn & Suites Seattle Center on June 30, after firefighters using a rescue pole failed to locate his body.

Officials for Public Health -- Seattle & King County say the pool has a history of problems and should not have been open because of the murkiness of the water. The health agency has launched its own investigation, the Times reported.

Just over a month earlier, health officials had closed the pool when an inspection revealed the water had no chlorine and was cloudy, said James Apa, a spokesman for the health agency. It was reopened two days later after hotel management corrected the problem.

"If you can't see the drain at the bottom of the pool it's your responsibility to self-close," Apa said. "We can't be there every day and every moment."

Officials at the Quality Inn did not return a telephone message left by The Associated Press seeking comment Friday.

Deboch and about a dozen other graduate students from WSU's School of Economic Sciences had traveled from Pullman to Seattle to attend the Western Economics Association International Conference.

Colleague Pavan Dhanireddy said Deboch was swimming at the deep end of the pool around 5:30 p.m. Minutes later, Dhanireddy saw Deboch splashing and flailing his hands and realized he was drowning. Dhanireddy, who couldn't swim, ran to the front desk.

The first call for help came in at 5:35 p.m., according to the fire department's 911 log. Firefighters conducted a grid search of the pool using a rescue hook and thermal-imaging camera but were unable to find Deboch, according to a fire department statement.

Dhanireddy said no one actually went in the pool during the search.

Officials decided Deboch had left the pool and hotel, even though his shoes, shirt, wallet and phone were still near the pool, according to Dhanireddy.

Calls to area hospitals and a look at hotel surveillance video found no trace of Deboch, so his colleagues determined he must still be in the pool.

A retired firefighter sitting nearby heard about the situation and determined the rescue pole was too short to reach the bottom of the pool's deep end, said Ryan Bain, another colleague of Deboch. The man attached a squeegee to the end and searched again. The man felt the pole touch something at the bottom of the pool, Bain said.

Deboch was pulled from the pool and given CPR.

Firefighters were summoned back to the hotel at 8:12 p.m. and continued CPR but Deboch "did not respond to any lifesaving efforts," according to the fire department's statement.