YMCA drowning victim's dad still looking for answers

Marc Dawson, 17, died on Feb. 18, 2008

Marc Dawson, 17, died on Feb. 18, 2008 in a YMCA pool. Photo Credit: Handout

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It's been two years since Ray Dawson's son Marc died after a drowning accident at the Huntington YMCA, yet he says he still doesn't know what happened in the moments after the teen was found facedown in the pool.

On Feb. 18, 2008, Marc, 17, a senior at Harborfields High School in Greenlawn and a lifeguard at the YMCA, was on a break and apparently practicing for Navy SEAL training in a 4-foot-deep lap pool when a lifeguard noticed him unconscious at the bottom of the pool. He was taken to Huntington Hospital and died a week later.

"All the stories are conflicting," Ray Dawson said Wednesday of accounts of the accident he has heard in the community and in depositions taken for a lawsuit. "The timelines don't match; first responders are telling us one thing, while the lifeguards and management are saying another."

Dawson, of Greenlawn, says YMCA management is to blame because lifeguards, including two 17-year-olds at the pool that afternoon, were inadequately prepared to respond in a timely and proper manner.

"They're looking to save a buck and pay these undertrained lifeguards $10 an hour, and they do not have the expertise, training or disposition to do what needs to be done in an emergency," Dawson said.

In September 2008, Dawson filed a lawsuit in State Supreme Court in Riverhead seeking unspecified damages. The lawsuit names the YMCA of Long Island Inc., the teenage lifeguard who noticed Marc in the pool, a second teenage lifeguard who was in the pool but giving a private lesson at the time, along with an adult lifeguard and the Y's aquatics coordinator, who responded to the emergency.

Andrew Kaufman, attorney for all the defendants, declined to comment.

Michael T. Famiglietti, president and chief executive of the YMCA of Long Island, and Eileen Knauer, executive director of the Huntington Y, did not return calls seeking comment.

Dawson said that one of the teenage lifeguards said she had been taken off her high school varsity swim team because she had experienced asthma attacks triggered by chlorine.

"Our position is she was not fit or capable to perform the necessary lifeguard functions at a public pool," said Michael Perrotta, a Huntington lawyer representing the Dawson family.

"Nothing is going to bring my son back," Dawson said, "but I feel like I'm not getting the full story. And it bothers me."

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