A pool builder accused of causing a 6-year-old boy’s death is set to stand trial Oct. 5.
In July 2007, Zachary Archer Cohn was entrapped and drowned at his Greenwich, Conn., home after his arm became stuck in a drain. The single suction outlet was located about 3 feet from the top of a spa dam wall.
A year later, David Lionetti, owner of Stamford, Conn.-based Shoreline Pools, was arrested and charged with second-degree manslaughter. Authorities alleged that he purposely flouted state building codes requiring a safety vacuum release system on the pool. Lionetti pleaded not guilty. If convicted, he faces up to 10 years in prison.
Lionetti’s attorney announced last month that the pool builder has decided to go before a judge rather than a jury.
“The issue is very emotional. It’s such a horrible tragedy,” said Richard Meehan, senior partner with the Bridgeport, Conn., firm Meehan Meehan & Gavin. “In a court trial rather than a jury trial, our hope is that emotion won’t cloud the issue.”
In 2004, Connecticut adopted the International Code Council’s model codes stipulating that SVRS’s should be required on all pools. But Meehan said the state didn’t notify builders quickly enough.
“The change in the code was put into effect Sept. 1, 2004, but it’s unclear when it was published,” Meehan said. “There’s some suggestion it wasn’t published until the end of 2005.”
The Cohns’ pool was permitted in June 2005.
The pool was built according to the state code immediately prior, Meehan said, and it did not require dual drains or SVRS’s.
“There was not a lot of information available to people alerting them to what the code changes were,” Meehan said. “For example, building inspectors were unaware of it. This pool had been inspected three times, and then ultimately a certificate of occupancy had been provided for this pool by the Greenwich Building Department. ... When the building inspector doesn’t know about it, how does a pool company necessarily know about it?”
Meehan also plans to raise a whole other question in the hearings. “The bigger issue, which I think is really critical for [the pool] industry, is that Shoreline Pools employed over 300 people,” he said. “Why is the president of this company being called to task? It’s not him who necessarily designed the pool and did all the work on the pool.”
Zachary Cohn’s parents also filed suit against Shoreline Pools and eight other parties. But the civil trial will not take place until after the criminal proceedings. In the suit, Brian and Karen Cohn claimed that Shoreline knew the drain cover was loose.
Meehan said that isn’t true. “Shoreline had sent somebody out to replace the cover when it came off, but they were never informed that it had come off a second time,” he said. “Apparently it had come off the day the little boy died. But Shoreline wasn’t called — nobody informed Shoreline of that.”