Seattle Dismissed from Suit over Drowning in Hotel Pool

Aug. 13--A judge has ruled the city of Seattle should not be brought into a lawsuit filed by the family of a man who drowned in a swimming pool at the Quality Inn & Suites Seattle Center last summer.

Tesfay Girma Deboch's family filed the wrongful-death suit against hotel operators Seattle Hospitality Inc. in January, alleging maintenance issues, including a faulty emergency shut-off for the pool's drain and unusually murky waters, contributed to a failed rescue attempt by firefighters.

Seattle Hospitality responded by attempting to draw the city into the litigation as a second defendant, claiming firefighters "failed to use reasonable care" during the rescue as they reopened the pool without having entered it, not knowing Deboch was still in the water.

Deboch, 27, was a doctoral student at Washington State University. On June 30, 2013, he was staying in the Quality Inn with 13 classmates while in town for an economics conference. He and a friend, Pavan Dhanireddy, decided to go in the hotel pool.

Within moments of entering the water, Dhanireddy saw Deboch flailing and struggling to keep above water. Dhanireddy could not swim, so he ran to the hotel's front desk and asked the attendant to call 911, he previously told The Seattle Times.

Firefighters arrived 2 1/2 minutes later and scanned the pool with a rescue hook and a specialized thermal-imaging camera, but found no sign of a body. Believing the pool was clear, firefighters declared Deboch missing, canceled a dive team and told hotel employees they could reopen the pool, reports show.

But Deboch was still underwater. As swimmers began to re-enter the pool, Deboch's friends continued the search, along with Tom Fleming, an off-duty firefighter vacationing at the hotel. After about 10 minutes of searching, Fleming found something. He asked the hotel to turn off the pool's pump and pulled Deboch's body from the center of the deep end.

By the time Seattle firefighters returned, it was too late. Deboch had drowned.

According to the suit, the underwater pump dragged Deboch to the bottom of the pool and held him there, which wouldn't have happened if the emergency shut-off mechanism was working properly. The suit also alleges that cloudy waters hindered the firefighters' ability to rescue Deboch.

Health inspectors previously closed the pool at least twice, including about a month before Deboch's death, because the water had no chlorine and was cloudy. They closed it again after the drowning, citing safety hazards, including malfunctioning emergency shut-offs.

The hotel's attorney filed the motion to include the city in the suit in June of this year, arguing the city should be on the hook for damages. The City Attorney's Office denied the claim in a court filing. An attorney for Deboch's family argued that the city was not liable, calling the action premature given that no judgment has been entered against Seattle Hospitality.

On July 25, King County Superior Court Judge William Downing granted the family's motion to drop the city from the suit, offering no further explanation.

Seattle Times news researcher Miyoko Wolf contributed to this story, which includes information from Seattle Times archives.Andy Mannix: amannix@seattletimes.com

Copyright 2014 - The Seattle Times

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