Sunday, June 04, 2006

It's a Sad, Sad Situation

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Sometimes I wonder if certain posts are not meant to be written. You sit and type away and edit a post for 45 minutes or longer, and then in a flash the post is gone for whatever reason. That just happened to this post, but I'll try to re-create it.

It's almost a year ago that our family took its first road trip to Florida. My children often reminisce about aspects of the trip and the other day I was reminded of an aspect of the trip, a rather sad one that I never wrote about on our return home.

We'd been staying in Kissimmee, Florida, and spending most of our days at Universal Studios and its neighboring theme park, Islands of Adventure. And we knew that we were going to still be in Florida over the American long weekend, and planned how we'd spend July 4: we'd go early to Universal, but not stay extended hours. Instead we'd come back to our hotel, relax, make some dinner, then go back for a movie at the City Walk, and by the time we'd come out of the movie, people would have begun gathering for the July 4th fireworks at City Walk, just outside the theme parks.

All was going to plan, but when we drove back to our hotel, Howard Johnson's Enchanted Land resort -- now, I don't know why it's called Enchanted Land or a resort; nothing enchanted or "resort" about it! -- we saw several police cars on the parking lots, a couple of K-9's and even a helicopter circling the area from above. My kids asked to go swimming before dinner, so we gave in and headed off to the pool. I came a bit later than hubby and the children and saw that a hotel staff member was unlocking room doors with a police officer by his side, and they were performing room checks. When I got to the pool, my husband told me he'd asked at the front desk what was going on: a child had gone missing about 90 minutes earlier. We were disturbed and kept a close eye on our children alongside us in the pool.

An officer questioned my husband and I in the pool, asking how long we'd been there, if we'd seen a little boy, etc, and questioned the few other people in the pool and on the pool deck. My husband and I got the heebie-jeebies and began to look suspiciously at people and kept our children in our sight at all times. It was disturbing, but we remained in the pool for about 40 minutes, then headed to our room for dinner and to prepare for our big July 4th night out.

By the time we got back to the hotel, it was well past midnight and immediately, I saw a news truck on the premises, and as we drove past the pool, we saw yellow police tape cordoning the area off. We hurried to watch the late night news, and were shocked by what we learned:

To think that we'd been swimming in the deep end and somewhere below us lay the body of a boy was so very heartbreaking and shocking.

We kept asking the how and why questions of ourselves and realized that no way would one of us seen him -- the water was that dark and thick-looking. And in researching this piece, I learned the following:

KISSIMMEE -- Across Osceola County, residents and tourists are stepping into communal pools and spas that failed Health Department inspections at least once this year.A review of county Health Department inspection records this year found that more than one in five bathing areas has been shut down since January for chlorine or acidity violations.
In most cases, the problems were corrected within a day or two.Another 23 pools or spas were cited for pH or chlorine violations but allowed to stay open because the operators corrected the problems on the spot.The 133 pools closed by the Health Department -- 22 percent of the 607 pools and spas it checks -- ranged from the Remington subdivision's wading pool to the swimming pool at Howard Johnson Enchanted Land on West U.S. Highway 192 where a 7-year-old boy drowned two weeks ago in water that was too cloudy for bystanders to see him struggling.The Health Department, a state agency, inspects all public or commercial swimming pools, hot tubs and wading pools at least twice a year. When inspectors find too little or too much chlorine or a pH reading that's too high or low, they watch the operator correct the problem or they close the pool.

We were at the hotel for another day and a half, and I was truly anxious to leave the scene of this tragedy and head for home. Our hearts were bleeding for the family of this young boy...this family who had come to spend a holiday weekend in a supposed "enchanted land" and instead were faced with an unspeakable horror.

I know that this July 4th, I will be thinking of them and thinking of their tremendous loss...