Parents point finger at CSU

Apr 192005
Authors: J.J. Babb

Frustrated with CSU's failure to release information about their son's death, the parents of a healthy 23-year-old student who drowned in a campus swimming pool in November held a press conference Tuesday to detail the drowning as well as the blame they feel falls on the university.

In their living room, Berthoud Mayor Milan Karspeck and his wife, Pat, discussed their aggravation with the CSU Student Recreation Center's lifeguard system, the lack of an emergency point-of-contact person, and the university's failure to publicize changes made in pool safety policy since David Karspeck died Nov. 24.

"We're not here to bash CSU. It's a fine university and we respect it but some things weren't done," Milan Karspeck said.

Pat Karspeck, who was occasionally tearful, said they were waiting for the university to release information to students concerning their son's death – particularly because his CSU class will graduate in May – but when officials did not, they decided to do it themselves.

In addition to providing details, the couple said they were in settlement talks with the university in an attempt to avoid a lawsuit. CSU spokesman Brad Bohlander confirmed the talks, but he declined to release details.

David Karspeck, a senior computer science major, was swimming on the evening of Nov. 23. After the end of his second lap, a surveillance tape shows him gliding toward the wall and sinking to the bottom of the pool, where he remained for more than seven minutes.

His parents believe that David Karspeck may have been trying to hold his breath to see how far he could swim without air, a common swimming exercise. They believe this caused him to black out.

Another swimmer pulled David Karspeck from the pool's bottom, and "another 50 seconds passed until the recreation center staff removed him from the water and initiated CPR," Milan Karspeck said.

Poudre Fire Authority arrived and continued CPR during transportation to Poudre Valley Hospital, where hospital staff attempted to resuscitate David Karspeck for more than 15 hours. He was pronounced dead the next day.

"The university's AED (automated external defibrillator) technology did not correspond with the technology used by Poudre Valley Hospital," according to a press release from CSU sent out in response to the Karspeck's press conference. The university and hospital have worked to make their systems compatible.

After telling the story of their son's death to reporters, the couple claimed the lifeguard on duty was chatting with a supervisor and not paying attention to the four or five swimmers in the pool, including their son.

"There is a question on if the lifeguard was where she should have been," Bohlander said.

Bohlander further said that although recreation center lifeguards are trained in Red Cross lifeguard protocol, it might not have been followed in this case.

Providing further details, Pat Karspeck said the supervisor who was talking to the lifeguard that day was a foreign-exchange student who "fled the country the day after the incident."

Bohlander could not comment on the supervisor, but he said the lifeguard no longer works at the pool but remains a student at CSU. Bohlander declined to release the lifeguard's name, calling it a personnel issue.

No charges have been filed against either the supervisor or the lifeguard, he said.

The Karspecks hope changes have been made to lifeguard training.

The university has improved staff training and installed a litany of additional safety measures, including a new witness protocol. CSU is also evaluating an underwater camera system that detects motionless swimmers, according to the release.

"We've done quite a lot actually as a result of this tragic death," Bohlander said.

The Karspecks do not personally single out the lifeguard's lack of action as the cause of their son's death.

"I'm sure she has gone through a lot of pain," Pat Karspeck said.

In addition to lifeguard safety, the Karspecks said university should have had one person coordinate communication between the university, emergency personnel, witnesses and them.

When emergency personnel arrived at the recreation center, the swimmer who pulled David Karspeck out of the water had been told to leave the scene and was not immediately questioned.

"He (the rescuer) was so frustrated because he couldn't get the information to the proper authorities," Pat Karspeck said.

The Karspecks said the lifeguard on duty told emergency personnel that David Karspeck had only been submerged for one minute, while the surveillance tape, the rescuer and university officials all now confirm he had been under water for seven minutes.

If medical personnel had known he was submerged for seven minutes, they would have known that the many hours of lifesaving attempts would be futile, the couple said.

"There was pretty much a breakdown of information," Pat Karspeck said.

Milan Karspeck added, "The doctors who were there were very surprised that David was not coming out of it because he had only been under water for only one minute."

It was not until the day following David Karspeck's drowning and hours of resuscitation efforts that the Karspecks received a letter from the fellow swimmer explaining how long their son had been under water. That day they also learned about the surveillance tape from the recreation center pool area.

"It was like a second shot to the chest," Milan Karspeck said of hearing of the tape.

The recreation center's surveillance cameras were originally utilized to deter vandalism and theft, not for safety reasons, Bohlander said. Because of this reason there was no protocol in place to use the tapes in assisting medical staff.

"It would have likely saved the Karspecks some pain," Bohlander said.

According to the CSU press release, new procedures have been put into place to assure immediate review of surveillance tapes in emergencies.

"We have learned a lot from this," Bohlander said.

During the week following David Karspeck's death, his parents asked to view the tape, and CSU complied.

"We knew it would be distressful," Pat Karspeck said. "But we had to see it for ourselves."

While the big question remains for many as to why David Karspeck stopped swimming and sank to the bottom of the pool, his parents have reached an answer.

"We kind of think David just passed out," Pat Karspeck said.

Pat and Milan Karspeck's son-in-law, who is a Marine, suggested that David might have experienced "shallow-water blackout." This is a training method used by Marines to condition their bodies in what it feels like to drown, Pat Karspeck said.

"If someone is watching you and pulls you up you start breathing right away," Pat Karspeck said.

This hypothesis became even more real when David Karspeck's brother, John Karspeck, who was at the pool the day of his brother's death, said the two would often see how far they could swim before coming up for air.

"David was always challenging himself," Pat Karspeck said. "So our conjecture is that he was swimming the lap down and back underwater to see how far he could swim."

The coroner's report states the cause of David Karspeck's death was drowning and could find no reason the drowning occurred.

"David's drowning was classified as a dry drowning which is also what happens in shallow-water blackouts," Pat said. "This felt very true to us that this was what happened."

The Karspecks came to this conclusion in mid-December.

"It was a real sense of closure for me. I wasn't wondering anymore," Pat Karspeck said, adding that the couple plans to plant a tree in their son's name and possibly establish a scholarship fund.

After the mid-December conclusion, the Karspecks began to ask CSU to issue a joint press release about their son's death.

The joint release never happened because of legal issues and disagreements about sides on what to release, Bohlander said.

The Karspecks also expressed disappointment that the university did not release information on its own to students, but Bohlander said the university does not publish press releases on such incidents.

"It's not really our precedent to do something like that," Bohlander said. "We've done an awful lot to make sure this doesn't happen again."

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