Pool Executive Charged in Drain Death


Pool exec charged in drain death
By Martin B. Cassidy
Staff Writer / Stamford Advocate

Article Launched:07/22/2008 01:00:00 AM EDT

Police charged the president of a Stamford pool company with manslaughter yesterday in the drowning death of Zachary Archer Cohn, a Greenwich boy killed last July when powerful suction captured his arm in a drain in his backyard pool.

Authorities charged David Lionetti, 53, president of Shoreline Pools of Stamford, with second-degree manslaughter, alleging his company failed to install mandatory safeguards.

Those safeguards could have prevented 6-year-old Zachary from being trapped in the suction of the pool drain, part of the pool’s filtration system, at his Greenwich home last July 26, police said.

Zachary’s arm became stuck in an intake valve in the pool, according to police. A protective cover for the valve was later found at the bottom of the pool.

Lionetti was freed on $25,000 bond and was scheduled to appear in state Superior Court on Monday.

Yesterday, Zachary’s parents Brian and Karen Cohn issued a statement through their attorney, Ernest Teitell, saying the prosecution would draw attention to the need for anti-entrapment devices and legislation making them mandatory.

“Nothing will bring our son back, but we hope this prosecution will help prevent another horrific accident like this from happening to someone else,” the statement said. “Those who knowingly violate pool safety codes designed to protect children should be held accountable for their actions.”

The arrest warrant was not available yesterday.

State Attorney David Cohen, the prosecutor in the case, said Lionetti’s company failed to install a legally required safety vacuum-release system on the Cohn family’s pool, which would have cut off suction when Zachary’s arm got stuck in the drain.

The pool also lacked a mandated dual-drain system, in which two main drains are placed at least three feet apart to split the dangerous suction force that trapped Zachary, Cohen said.

“There are basically two things they neglected to do,” Cohen said. “There were supposed to be two drains a certain distance apart and a vacuum release system, which would have cut off the pump and is designed to prevent just this type of thing from happening.”

Lionetti plans to plead not guilty, said his attorney, Richard Meehan Jr.
“To my knowledge this is the first time an executive from a pool company has been prosecuted for homicide for claimed code violations in the installation of a pool,” Meehan said.

Meehan declined to comment on the issue of safety devices, saying he had not seen the arrest affidavit yet.

Under a state law adopted in 2004, new pools must have three or more anti-entrapment features to ensure safety:

  • an approved anti-vortex drain cover;
  • two suction drains placed at least three feet apart to split the force of the suction;
  • a vacuum release system that uses a sensor to cut off power to the drains when an object blocks the flow of water.

In January, the Cohns filed a lawsuit against Shoreline Pools, the town of Greenwich and others involved in the construction of the pool, claiming the pool violated state building codes because the drainage system did not have safeguards to shut off suction if an object blocked the drain.

The suction was strong enough that efforts by two adults, including Zachary’s father, could not free the boy until power was shut off, according to the lawsuit.

A shut-down switch to the pool was located in a difficult-to-find enclosure far from the pool, the lawsuit said.

Under state law, municipal building inspectors are responsible for ensuring pool plans are up to code and inspecting the finished pool before issuing a certificate of occupancy.

The lawsuit contends the town issued the permits without inspecting the plans or conducting a final inspection before issuing the certificate.

Under Connecticut state law, second-degree manslaughter is a class C felony, carrying a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison.

On Friday, a major fire at Shoreline Pools’ Selleck Street warehouse in Stamford ignited pool chemicals and sent most of Stamford’s midnight shift of police officers to the hospital for treatment for chemical exposure. Most of the company’s Ford Ranger pickup trucks were destroyed.