When most of us think of a homicide, images of plaster, rebar and a pool pump don’t typically come to mind.
But that’s essentially the plea that David Lionetti entered
in a Connecticut court last month.
In 2005, the president of Shoreline Pools was hired by a developer
to build a high-end pool and spa for a new custom home in
And why not Shoreline? The company had been in business for nearly
40 years, and it had an impressive portfolio of award-winning
But despite the accolades, Shoreline had a problem. The pool at 176
Taconic Road lacked even the most basic anti-entrapment
The home was purchased in 2006 by Brian and Lisa Cohn, and in the
summer of 2007 a drain entrapment claimed the life of their
6-year-old son Zachary.
This country is full of old, single-outlet pools that are likely
unsafe, but may well be used forever without incident — that
lone drain on the deep-end floor we’ve all seen a million
times. But this pool was different; it was a menace.
Who would place a single-suction wall drain 3 feet below the
waterline with no backup safety device? It’s simply
After Zachary’s death, Lionetti was charged with
second-degree manslaughter, a felony that can bring up to 10 years
in prison. An unusual deal allowed him to plead guilty to negligent
homicide, a misdemeanor, while his company accepted the
manslaughter charge. Settlements were reached, Shoreline adopted
new safety procedures, and life went on.
But this outcome has haunted me ever since.
First, I believe four people were responsible for Zachary’s death.
The main player is Lionetti, who was either unaware of his
state’s safety codes or chose to flagrantly ignore them. I
understand someone not realizing an SVRS requirement was in place.
But no dual drains? This was already considered a best practice in
the mid-1990s, and by 2005, equipping a pool with dual drains feels
like no-brainer territory.
Of the dozens of builders in the Northeast I know personally, all
build with dual drains. As the president of Shoreline, Lionetti set
company culture. He decided on the education and training necessary
for his employees, as well as the extent of managerial oversight
they needed. The pool that killed Zachary was his product, designed
under his watch.
The second responsible party is the pool’s designer. That
vessel would have been only slightly more dangerous if it were
equipped with a school of Venezuelan piranhas. Yet someone drew up
and signed off on the specs. Designing pools is serious business,
and this was a faulty blueprint.
Next comes the inspector who signed off on the project. The
Cohns’ pool somehow got the green light in spite of glaring
infractions. Was the city employee lazy, ignorant, corrupt, or some
combination of the three?
Finally, a Shoreline service technician noted the loose drain cover
on a company form, but never alerted the Cohns to the danger it
posed, nor followed up to ensure it was repaired. Connecticut law
requires that service techs are licensed and receive continuing
education every two years. I have no doubt that drain-cover safety
is addressed in that process.
If the Cohns’ tech was licensed, he ignored that training
— an oversight which led to tragedy. If he was unlicensed,
then his share of culpability drops, and Lionetti’s rises
So was justice done here? I don’t believe so, as unpopular as
that view may be. While the corporation was convicted of
manslaughter, the individuals involved received comparatively
little punishment. The incident itself has given the industry an
unnecessary black eye. Let’s make sure it never happens