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Instead of criticizing successful people, try to emulate them.


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 Greenwich, Conn.

And why not Shoreline? The company had been in business for nearly 40 years, and it had an impressive portfolio of award-winning pools.

But despite the accolades, Shoreline had a problem. The pool at 176 Taconic Road lacked even the most basic anti-entrapment protection. 

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 unconscionable.

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 proportionally. 

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 again.