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Pool safety at top of list of concerns after child drowning death

5-year-old Jeremiah Wilson was found at the bottom of a Peoria apartment last week. He was missing for 40 minutes before his body was found in the murky pool water. With summer upon us and pools open, we spoke with water safety experts about what steps parents can take to keep their kids safe.

Summer fun is in full swing at the Morton Pool, and for Dan Veatch that means several trips a week with his seven-year-old Elly. “I’m very protective of her. I’ll get in the pool with her and play with her quite a bit,” Veatch explained. Elly said her favorite part, “I get to go down the slides.” Veatch said he watches to make sure, “just that she’s being smart. Not running around, not diving in the shallow end.” But he knows he can’t always be there so Elly has been taking swimming lessons every year since she was 3. And she know its, “because if somebody accidentally pushes you down you don’t drown.”

Meredith McDonough has been a lifeguard and swim instructor for 6 years in Morton. She said “I think its important to get started at a young age because you never know when they’re going to be around water.” Parks Director Joel Dickerson sees thousands of swimmers every year. He says safety is always their number one concern. “Every child’s safety is a shared responsibility between us and the parents…That’s not just coming and sitting in a chair with your headphones on and taking a nap. That’s really being an active participant in your child’s safety,” explained Dickerson.

Constant supervision isn’t always possible, so they teach water safety with their swim lessons. Paighton Derrick is in her second summer as a lifeguard. She says sometimes it can be hard to spot a struggling swimmer. “What we’re trying to do with the kids is build confidence with the water and make them feel very safe around it. So we teach things like back floats if they’re ever struggling to go up on your back,” she explained. Derrick added, “What we’re looking for is someone who may go under and then come back up and is bobbing and kind of has that look in their eyes.” And in case of emergency she said kids should, “Go up on their back, kick their legs and take deep breaths in to keep them above water.”

Non-swimmers aren’t the only ones they watch for. Fatigue and medical issues cause emergencies too. “You never expect someone who knows how to swim to need to be saved but it happens.”

In Morton, they start swim lessons with parents and kids as early as 6 months old. Others start as early as 6 weeks old. Children that age don’t learn how to necessarily swim, but Dickerson says they work to develop good water safety habits and a confidence and familiarity with the water. He says one thing they do is only jump in the water when their parent or an adult counts them down. That way if they ever approach a pool unsupervised, they don’t hear the count down and hopefully the won’t jump in.

For more information about swim lessons you can visit local organization websites:

Peoria Parks District

Morton Parks District

YMCA – Peoria

YMCA – Bloomington/Normal

Town of Normal

Bloomington Parks District


Kyle Beachy

Kyle Beachy is a Multimedia Journalist for 25 News and Heart of Illinois. Born and raised in Kokomo, Indiana, he attended Indiana Wesleyan University where he studied Education and played baseball. He comes to us from Columbus, Ohio where he received a Master’s Degree from The Ohio State University.

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