Wife of man who drowned at athletic club files wrongful death suit
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The wife of a Penn Hills man who drowned in the swimming pool at the Downtown Athletic Club in April has filed a wrongful death suit against the owner of the club and the hotel that rented the space to the now-closed facility.
Lorenzo Williams, 38, of Verona drowned on April 11 in the pool at 1 Bigelow Square.
In her suit filed in Allegheny County Common Pleas Court, Ericka Williams said her husband was a good swimmer but drowned at about 7:30 p.m. in 10 feet of water after he became "entrapped in the suction of the swimming pool drain."
She said the club and its owner, Daniel J. Griffin, who rented the space from the Doubletree City Center, were negligent in not making sure the pool was safe by installing a drain cover as required by federal law. Elmhurst Corp., owner of the hotel, is also a defendant but a spokeswoman said the company does not comment on pending litigation.
The club closed at the end of May when its lease expired and the phone has been disconnected. Mr. Griffin could not be reached yesterday.
The Allegheny County medical examiner's office ruled the drowning an accident.
But Ms. Williams' lawyer, Anthony D'Amico, said the pool owners were to blame for a series of safety lapses.
The family was staying at the hotel. With no lifeguard on duty, Mr. Williams went swimming with his two young children as his wife, who can't swim, sat nearby. When he didn't surface, Ms. Williams tried to use the hook on the wall to reach him, but it was too short, Mr. D'Amico said.
"She tried to call for help but the phone didn't work," he said. "And when she ran out to the front desk, no one was there."
She ended up pulling the fire alarm, summoning firefighters, paramedics and police. Mr. Williams was taken to UPMC Mercy, where he was pronounced dead shortly after 8 p.m.
The crux of the case is the Virginia Graeme Baker Pool and Spa Safety Act, a federal law passed in 2007 requiring all pools and spas to have special drain covers to keep children from getting trapped.
The law was created after Virginia Baker, the 8-year old granddaughter of former Secretary of State James Baker III, drowned in 2002 after being trapped by a hot tub drain.
As originally proposed, the law required all new pools and spas to be manufactured with drain safety covers.
When another child died in Minnesota during deliberations, the law was amended to require all existing public facilities to be fitted with the covers.
Mr. D'Amico said the club never installed one.
Among her demands, Ms. Williams is asking for lost wages from her husband, an electrician.
First Published June 12, 2009 12:00 am