ST. PAUL (WCCO) — A WCCO investigation found the city of St. Paul has known about the dangers at an abandoned swimming pool for three years. Two brothers nearly drowned when one jumped a fence outside their apartment building on Memorial Day.
Police say 7-year-old Sher Kpor tried to grab a flip-flop from the dirty rainwater when he slipped underwater, then his 10-year-old brother Ma Kpaw tried to rescue him. The younger boy is in the hospital now.
A complaint in city files from May of 2012 warns of almost the exact scenario that unfolded Monday.
“Pool on property has a fence around it and also has standing water from when it rains,” a city inspector wrote. “Complainant has seen kids climb over the fence to retrieve balls (they always seem to play close to pool) and feels this is a big hazard and accident waiting to happen.”
A second complaint from earlier in 2012 also warns about the danger of children climbing over the pool fence.
Tonya Cotton, a resident of the pool’s apartment complex, reacted strongly to news of the report.
“I think the city should have done something way back then,” Cotton said.
Ricardo Cervantes, Director of City Inspections, said the city did all it could in 2012 by getting the property owner to drain the pool and fix the fence.
“Did we have the authority to do maybe something different? I don’t believe we did,” Cervantes said.
He says in 2013 under state law, the responsibility for the pool transferred from the city to the Minnesota Department of Health, but the Department of Health says that is not true. They say they are only responsible for active pools, and not closed or abandoned ones.
That means no one — not the state or the city — was inspecting or supervising a pool that had been cited as a danger to children.
Cervantes says he is looking into adding regulations that put more responsibility on property owners for pool upkeep. According to the City Fire Marshall, the fence and lock around the pool did meet regulatory standards.
Update, 8 p.m., May 27: St. Paul’s inspections director, Ricardo Cervantes, sent a letter to the city council Wednesday evening acknowledging that there is a gap in who is responsible for supervising abandoned or closed pools.
In the letter, Cervantes asked the city council for “help in building a city ordinance that will enable the city to assume responsibility for any similar pools.”
In the meantime, the inspections department will respond to complaints about unused pools. Residents are asked to call 651-266-8989 to report abandoned pools.