In a history-making case, a Connecticut pool builder has pled guilty to criminally negligent homicide for an entrapment death that occurred in a pool constructed by his company.
It is the first-known instance where a contractor has been held criminally responsible for a drowning in one of his pools.
David Lionetti, CEO of Shoreline Pools in Stamford, Conn., pled guilty for the death of Zachary Archer Cohn, a six-year-old child whose arm was entrapped in a wall drain meant to feed a spillover spa.
“It’s a very fair and reasonable outcome,” said Lionetti’s attorney, Richard Meehan Jr., of Meehan Meehan and Gavin in Bridgeport, Conn. “It was a great relief for David Lionetti.”
The victim’s parents said they hope the outcome means a better future for pool safety.
"This unspeakable loss has made us keenly aware of the dangers that still exist in private and public pools across the country — dangers of which parents and pool owners must be made aware,” said Karen and Brian Cohn in a press release.
In 2008, Greenwich police charged Lionetti with second degree manslaughter, saying the builder “recklessly caused the death” and “failed to have his company install mandated safety devices in the pool.”
Although the police complaint never specified what device, the Cohns claimed in a lawsuit that the pool was not outfitted with dual drains or a safety vacuum release system — both of which have been required in Connecticut since 2004. The pool was built in 2005.
The Cohns also filed suit against manufacturers Hayward Pool Products and A.O. Smith, and the city of Greenwich, Conn., where the pool was located. The suit against Shoreline has been settled, but the other cases are still pending.
While the criminal case originally was brought against Lionetti, Shoreline became a party in the end stages, Meehan said. “As part of the plea negotiations, it was agreed that Shoreline Pools would be the one that would take responsibility on the felony charge, the manslaughter,” he said. “Mr. Lionetti’s charges were reduced to a misdemeanor, negligible homicide.” A separate attorney represented Shoreline Pools.
Lionetti was given a suspended one-year sentence, along with three years probation. In that time, he must complete 500 hours of community service. According to local press accounts, he is set to perform janitorial duties at a local Boys & Girls Club.
For its part, Shoreline Pools faces the same probationary period. In addition, it must identify 100 Connecticut installations that currently do not meet safety codes and update them free of charge. This must be done at a rate of at least 10 pools per year for the next 10 years. The company also was to pay $150,000 to the ZAC Foundation, the Cohns’ organization to promote pool and spa safety, with the funds being used to place safety-awareness ads. Shoreline had the option of paying in three annual $50,000 installments, but instead forwarded a check for the full amount the day the plea was announced.
The company must supply the ZAC Foundation with a mailing list of all pools built in Connecticut since the SVRS and dual-drain mandate began, and pay bulk mailing to send a safety brochure to those homeowners. Shoreline also will sponsor safety booths at the International Pool | Spa | Patio Expo and the Atlantic City Pool & Spa Show for the next three years.
Lionetti has pledged to support the requirement of SVRSs in all pools and spas. “Shoreline Pools has endorsed the SVRS pool safety system and is supporting legislation to make this system mandatory in all new pool construction,” he said in a press release.
His attorney said he believed the comment referred to efforts by the Cohns to persuade the Consumer Product Safety Commission to mandate SVRSs on all pools. He would not comment as to how or in what capacity Lionetti plans to support such a requirement.
For more in-depth coverage of the case, read the May 27 issue of Pool & Spa News.