Beaver Dam lifeguard disregarded calls for help, man testifies in trial

Drowned woman's parents suing owner of swim club

October 02, 2002|By Stephanie Hanes | Stephanie Hanes,SUN STAFF

When 24-year-old Jamee Eben drowned two years ago at Beaver Dam Swimming Club, lifeguards at the popular Baltimore County swimming quarry all but ignored her friends' pleas for help, a lawyer for Eben's parents told a jury yesterday in Baltimore County Circuit Court.

It was the first day of trial in the $6 million lawsuit Marilyn and Terry Eben filed last year against the swim club. The Ebens' attorney, Margaret M. McKee, was trying to show how the club's negligence caused the Columbia woman's death on July 2, 2000.

If the lifeguards had been properly trained, McKee said, if they had sufficient rescue gear, if they had believed a panicked Greg Matulevich when he told them his girlfriend, a competitive swimmer, was missing in the water, Eben might have been rescued. The average depth of the quarry water is 40 feet, according to court documents.

The Cockeysville club's owner, Ellen H. Herwig, has denied responsibility for the death, and yesterday her attorney, Deborah M. Whelihan, called the drowning a blameless tragedy.

"This case is simply an accidental drowning," she said. "Sometimes people die when it is not the fault of other people."

Eben, who as a college sophomore was captain of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County swim team, had come to Beaver Dam with Matulevich and two other friends that Independence Day weekend.

The group spent the late morning swimming around the quarry, resting on a raft and jumping into the water from adjacent rocks..

But at some point, Eben went under. Matulevich testified yesterday that he watched her start to swim back to shore after stopping in the middle of the quarry to retie her bikini top. But the next time he looked, she wasn't there. Matulevich said he turned immediately to the lifeguard and said that his girlfriend, who had been swimming behind him, was missing.

"He basically blew it off," Matulevich said from the witness stand, his voice quavering.

The lifeguard, he said, told him his girlfriend had probably gotten out of the water somewhere else. As Matulevich and one of his friends started diving in the water to find her, he testified, the lifeguard told him to have Eben paged.

It was about a half-hour before police and rescue workers arrived, he said. State and county divers took five days to find Eben's body.

Her parents filed their lawsuit July 5, 2001.

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