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The Circumstances of Yoni’s Tragic Death by Cathedral Oaks Athletic Club - Part 1

No parent could ever fathom that leaving their child at a day camp would be the last time they would see their child alive. Yet that is precisely what happened here. On August 15, 2005, Yoni Gottesman’s mother took him to a summer camp at Cathedral Oaks Athletic Club (COAC) in Santa Barbara, California. The Camp included swimming in the Club’s pool. Ironically, the Club’s advertising at the time focused on what a safe facility it was. The events of that day showed that, on the contrary, both management and staff were all but oblivious to the safety of the children in their care.

The Swim Lesson and Test:

In the morning, one of the swim instructors at the Club, GABRIELA Kasimatis, gave Yoni a swimming lesson. She concluded that Yoni was “overconfident in his swimming abilities,” and that he needed to hold on to the side of the pool. This critical point for Yoni’s safety during any future time in the pool, however, was not conveyed to the Camp counselors or lifeguards who would be watching the pool while the Campers swam later that afternoon.

At the beginning of the Camp’s afternoon swim time, one of the Camp counselors, JEANETTE (JENNIE) DARLING, gave Yoni a swimming test to determine his ability level and, as a result, restricted him to the shallow end of the pool. The counselors and lifeguards did nothing to enforce that restriction, however. On the contrary, the male counselor in the pool, Sam Shipley, actively enticed and encouraged Yoni to swim to the deeper parts of the pool.

The Camp Counselor’s Aggressive “Dunking” of Yoni:

Both swim instructor Kasimatis and Camp counselor Darling knew that Yoni could not be allowed out of the shallow end of the pool. Despite that, counselor Shipley took little Yoni out into the deeper parts of the pool and aggressively “dunked” him under water – not once, but a number of times. Counselor Shipley then swam away from an exhausted and disoriented Yoni, who struggled to stay afloat and then began to float face down in the water. He stayed that way for more than eight (8) minutes. As Yoni was dying, this same counselor swam within only a couple of feet of the drowning little boy, paying no attention to his condition.

JEANETTE (JENNIE) DARLING, the counselor who gave Yoni the swim test and restricted him to the shallow end of the pool after the test, did nothing to monitor him. She also did nothing to stop the dunking by counselor Shipley – which not only violated the Club’s rules, but also was obviously a safety hazard to young children.

The Lifeguards’ Complete Failure to Monitor the Swimmers:

In addition to the outrageous dunkings, one of the most appalling facets of Yoni’s tragic death is the conduct of the COAC's lifeguards, Michael Bowen and David Merin. Far from following the well established protocol of lifeguard safety procedures [View Gerald Dworkin Material], the lifeguards at the pool were oblivious to the little boy floating and dying directly in front of them. Rather than scanning the pool as required, the lifeguards instead repeatedly turned their attention away from the pool for extensive periods to adjust their jacket or umbrella, or to leave the pool area entirely to get a soda. Even when the lifeguards otherwise appeared to be watching the pool, they took no notice of little Yoni floating face down as close as a few feet in front of them.

For more information on Gerald Dworkin and lifeguard safety procedures, please click here.



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Yoni Gottesman