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L.I. YMCA Hopes To Prevent Tragedies With Swimming Lessons

Woman Who Lost 2 Children To Drowning Emphasizes Need For Safety

BAY SHORE, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) — A Long Island woman who lost her two children in a drowning accident has launched a call to improve pool safety just in time for swimming season.

Meanwhile, a local YMCA has offered a swimming lesson with the goal of safety in mind.

As CBS 2’s Jennifer McLogan reported, Ralph Knowles, 5, and Sharon Knowles, 7, drowned in a neighbor’s unguarded above-ground pool in Central Islip back on April 14. Police officers jumped into the 4-foot-deep pool and found the brother and sister’s lifeless bodies submerged inside.

“(It was) the worst thing that ever happened to me in my life,” said the children’s mother, Tia Knowles. “Nothing could replace my children.”

The pool was located just behind the Knowles’ property on Half Mile Road. Investigators said the pool was enclosed, but the fence on the property line was not properly installed so as to keep the children out.

“I told my children to go outside and play until lunch was ready,” Knowles said.

But in an instant, the children found a hole in the fence and an unlatched gate, as well as a pool without a tarp.

“It only takes a minute,” said Bob Pettersen of the Great South Bay YMCA. “You hear this all the time – you’ve got to be vigilant, you have to supervise your children, and you have to teach your kids how to swim. That can save a child.”

That was why the parents of Jalen Cutler, 7, sent their son to the world’s largest swim lesson at his local Bay Shore YMCA camp.

Jalen said he is learning to swim, with such lessons as, “When you get tired, you float.”

With pool, boating and beach season right around the corner, families have been reminded that drowning is a leading cause of death among children between the ages of 1 and 4.

“I have three daughters — one is 8, another 7, and a 6-month-old,” said Tara Obermeyer of Bay Shore. “They are never too young to learn how to swim. Accidents can happen at any time.”

Added Obermeyer’s 7-year-old daughter, Ava, “I want to learn to swim to feel safe.”

The staff has advised working parents to make sure their child care providers have knowledge of what to do in emergencies, in case nannies can’t swim.

“Scream for help,” said Maureen Kiernan, aquatic director at the Great South Bay Y. “You’re going to call 911.”

Knowles now wants to become an advocate for early swim lessons and backyard pool safety.

“It could have been prevented,” she said.

Tuesday would have been Sharon Knowles’ 8th birthday.

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