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Islip issues violations to owner of pool where Knowles kids apparently drowned

A memorial in front of the Naples Avenue

A memorial in front of the Naples Avenue home in Central Islip, where victims Sharon Knowles, 7, and her brother Ralph Knowles, 5, lived. The brother and sister were found in a backyard pool on Half Mile Road on April 14, 2013, and died a short time later. (April 15, 2013) Credit: James Carbone

The owner of a Central Islip house where two young siblings were found submerged in a backyard pool and later died Sunday did not properly install and maintain fencing and decking as required, Islip Town officials said.

A town code enforcement inspector cited the homeowner -- identified as Deborah Augustin -- for improperly maintaining decking and improperly installing and maintaining fencing, town officials said Monday. Augustin has owned the house on Half Mile Road since 2010, records show. She could not be reached for comment.

Ralph Knowles, 5, and Sharon Knowles, 7, lived in a home on Naples Avenue with a backyard adjacent to Augustin's backyard. Police pulled them from the 4-foot-deep pool bottom sometime after officers responded to a 911 call reporting the pair missing about 3:30 p.m. Sunday. They were later pronounced dead at Southside Hospital in Bay Shore -- the apparent victims of drowning, police said.

Suffolk County homicide Det. Sgt. Edward Fandrey said Monday that it's not clear how long the children were in the pool before being found. Their mother, Tia Knowles, told police they had been missing for about an hour, he said, adding that police are still investigating how the pair ended up in the pool.

Knowles, speaking at a neighbor's house Monday, said she misses her younger children "very much."

"I did not have enough time with my children -- enough time would have been a lifetime," Knowles, 32, said as she gripped the hand of older sister Tijah Parrott, 36, of Huntington.

She said as soon as she discovered her children weren't playing in the yard Sunday afternoon, family members began searching for them.

"Right now, I have everyone looking at me as the parent as to what happened," Knowles said. "I watch my children carefully . . . I don't know how to swim, but I would have jumped in to save them."

She said she lost her job in the health care industry about three weeks ago and is struggling to pay for the children's funerals. Relatives said Knowles has two other daughters -- Annastia, 12, and Roxy, 11.

Town officials said the fence around the yard with the pool had been incorrectly installed with its horizontal beams faced outward, instead of inward, as required by code. The fence also had openings and gaps and "presents a substantial opportunity of unauthorized access to the pool," town spokeswoman Inez Birbiglia said Monday.

Augustin is scheduled to appear on June 12 in 5th District Court. The fencing citation carries a penalty of as much as 15 days in jail and $5,000 in fines. Augustin has 15 days to remedy the decking violation, Islip officials said.

A previous owner installed the pool under a permit issued in 2002. The single-family ranch home was built in 1972.

Town code requires a pool to be enclosed by a permanent barrier or fence at least 4 feet high, but not taller than 6 feet. The town does not require a pool cover or tarp. In 2006, Islip required all new pools be equipped with an alarm, but previously built pools were not required to comply.

Central Islip school district spokeswoman Barbara LaMonica said counselors were on hand Monday for students and faculty at the Early Childhood Center, where Ralph attended school, and at A.T. Morrow Elementary School, where Sharon was a student.

The Knowles home is owned by Suburban Housing Development & Research Inc., a Bay Shore-based nonprofit that provides housing to homeless families. Officials said the family has been living there for about 14 months. The mortgage is held by the Town of Islip Community Development Agency.

Mitchell Olshwitz, who identified himself as a close friend of the Knowles family, said Monday morning through tears that the children's parents are struggling to cope.

"The two little kids were angels," Olshwitz said, adding he grew up with the children's father, whom he identified as Ralph Knowles.

Olshwitz, 38, of Island Park, described the children as "good kids" who "liked to get into everything."

With Laura Figueroa

and Tania Lopez

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