Mervo student died of drowning autopsy found no injuries

November 06, 1990|By Will Englund

Final autopsy results on Mervo student Derrick White reveal the cause of his death -- drowning -- but raise even more questions about how he died.

Baltimore police had reported that Derrick apparently hit his head on the lip of the pool at Mergenthaler Vocational-Technical High School while he was trying to lift himself out and that he then slipped under the water, where he remained until pulled out by an instructor with the aid of two other students.

But the autopsy report, prepared by Dr. Frank Peretti of the medical examiner's office and released yesterday, said there was no evidence of injury to the head or any other part of the body.

The autopsy also found that Derrick, who was 15, had an "active condition of asthma" and showed evidence of a past lung infection.

According to a statement issued by the medical examiner, "Derrick's asthma would have aggravated any shortness of breath he experienced while he was swimming and attempting to get out of the pool."

But the statement did not directly link his asthma to his death, and Dr. Peretti did not return repeated calls to his office.

Derrick's mother, Bobbie White, has said that she wrote to Derrick's teacher asking that he be excused from swimming because of his asthmatic condition. Nevertheless, Derrick had continued to take part in the class, which is mandatory.

Swimming does not generally pose a threat to asthmatics, experts agree, but someone suffering a rare acute attack while in the water could be in danger.

Mrs. White could not be reached for comment yesterday.

School officials, who said they were investigating Derrick's death, which occurred Oct. 26, continued to refuse to discuss the case yesterday. Karen V. Poe, of the school system's public relations office, referred all questions to Neal Janey, the city solicitor. Mr. Janey did not return a reporter's calls.

The police based their report on Derrick's death on interviews with students and teachers who were at the Mervo pool the day he died, several of whom suggested that he hit his head before falling under water.

But the police noted that his head showed no signs of bruises when he was taken to Union Memorial Hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

Derrick went under water just as the class was drawing to a close, and most of the students were apparently already out of the water. Several tried to help him after they realized he was in trouble, and at some point a student summoned one of the teachers, Nancy Havranek. After removing her sweat suit, she went into the pool and pulled Derrick up from the bottom, at a spot where the water is 11 feet deep.

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