Friends help family mourn student's death. Medical examiner's report due tomorrow

October 31, 1990|By Mark Bomster | Mark Bomster,Evening Sun

A medical examiner's report is expected to be completed by '' tomorrow in the death of Derrick White, a 15-year-old student who apparently drowned last Friday during a swimming class at Mergenthaler Vocational-Technical High School.

While the police report labeled the incident an "accidental drowning," an official in the state medical examiner's office said a final determination awaits results of further laboratory tests that should be completed by tomorrow.

Baltimore school officials, meanwhile, have referred all further questions about the incident to the city solicitor's office.

Frank Peretti, assistant medical examiner, said that the examination would have to take into account Derrick's medical background, which his family said included a history of asthma.

"We were told that he has a history [of asthma] and we have to rule it out or rule it in," said Peretti.

Family members also say that the boy's mother, Bobbie White, had written a note to school officials telling them about Derrick's asthma and asking that he be excused from swimming.

A school department spokesman said that "the principal was not aware of any note."

But Jessie Mae White, the boy's aunt, said that Mergenthaler principal Christolyne M. Buie visited the family over the weekend and "told me that she was doing some really deep research" into whether a letter was on file.

The aunt, who is visiting with the White family from Milwaukee, also said that her nephew had suffered an asthma attack at the school less than two weeks prior to the incident.

"Ever since he was a little boy, that kid had terrible asthma," the aunt said yesterday. "Every school he went, they had records of it."

"He did not want to go in the water," she said.

According to accounts by the police and school officials, the incident took place at the end of a morning swim class of about 60 students, supervised by two instructors.

According to a school spokeswoman, instructors had blown the whistle for students to get out of the pool.

Both of the instructors were at the shallow end of the pool when Derrick tried to lift himself out at the pool's mid-point, where the water was about four feet deep.

White apparently slipped and struck his chin or head, knocking himself unconscious and sliding back into the water. He then drifted to the pool's deep end.

A student who saw the accident tried to alert an instructor at the pool's shallow end who did not hear the student initially. Two other students tried to pull Derrick out of the pool with a rescue hook that was not long enough.

According to the police report, swimming instructor Nancy Havranek "was at the shallow end . . . when she heard some of the students yelling that someone was lying at the deeper end."

Havranek stripped down to her bathing suit, dove into the pool and brought Derrick to the surface, then started cardio-pulmonary resuscitation procedures.

Alerted to the incident, the school's athletic director called for an ambulance. Derrick was taken to Union Memorial Hospital, where he was pronounced dead at 12:40 p.m.

Still unclear is how long Derrick was under water before he was hauled from the pool, and whether his asthma or other factors were involved in the incident.

Officials said Derrick's mother was met at the hospital by school officials, including Superintendent Richard C. Hunter.

On Saturday, the family was visited by Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, who later arranged to have a private foundation help pay for burial expenses.

There are a total of 22 swimming pools at city schools, according to a school department spokesman.

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