Chilling Details of New Canaan Boy’s Drowning Emerge in Arrest Warrant Application

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The 5-year-old New Canaan boy who nearly died after drowning last month at Chelsea Piers in Stamford struggled visibly at the surface of the pool as he drifted toward its deep end, flailing his arms, sinking and pushing off of the bottom to take a final breath before sinking again and losing consciousness, according to a Stamford Police Department arrest warrant application.

Surveillance video also shows that a lifeguard—charged last week in connection with the incident—though he walked past that area of the pool twice, failed both times to look toward the water where the unconscious boy’s body was submerged, according to surveillance video cited in the application by Officer Christopher Friel of the Stamford Police Department’s Bureau of Criminal Investigation-Crimes Against Persons Unit.

Zachary Stein, 23, of New Canaan, was charged Sept. 7 with risk of injury to a minor, a felony offense, as well as first-degree reckless endangerment.

Under state law, a person is guilty of risk of injury if he or she “willfully or unlawfully causes or permits any child under the age of sixteen years to be placed in such a situation that the life or limb of such child is endangered, the health of such child is likely to be injured,” among other circumstances.

According to the arrest warrant application signed by Stamford Superior Court Judge John Blawie and obtained by, some 66 kids from various camps were in the facility’s “Splash Zone” area, including nine in the pool at the time that the boy drowned.

Ultimately, the boy survived the Aug. 3 drowning after being airlifted from Stamford Hospital to Yale-New Haven Hospital, coming off of a ventilator on Aug. 5 and coming home two days later, according to the application. However, “although [the boy’s] condition significantly improved, the long term effects as a result of this incident are still unknown,” Friel noted in his affidavit. The drowning and arrest were first reported by The Advocate of Stamford.

The boy had been attending a soccer camp at Chelsea Piers, and had one hour of “free time” from 12 to 1 p.m. where he could use the pool, according to Friel’s affidavit. Police would be dispatched to the Blachley Road facility at 12:38 p.m.

Surveillance video, obtained by the Stamford Police Digital Forensics Unit, showed that the boy “can be seen playing with two boys, one bare chested and one wearing a light blue shirt.”

“[The boy] and two other boys venture out from the shallow end of the pool, 2 feet 6 inches in depth, toward the deep end, which at its maximum depth is labeled four feet zero inches. At approximately the 10:40 mark on the video [the boy] passes the three foot zero inches depth mark in the pool, which appears to be about the halfway mark, and can be seen struggling to keep his head above the water as he continues to drift to the deep end toward the south east corner of the pool. At this time the lifeguard, Stein, is walking north along the eastern edge of the pool in a counterclockwise direction but has already passed the area where [the boy] is now struggling to stay above the water.”

Stein then walked to the lifeguard chair on the northern side of the pool, “before doubling back, now heading in a clockwise direction and walks past the south east corner of the pool where [the boy] is underwater. [the boy] appears to slowly sink to the bottom of the pool, then pushes off the ground just enough to get his head above the water to take a breath and flail his arms, before going back under. Stein continues his clockwise lap around the edge of the pool from the southern edge until he goes off camera, then reappears on the western edge, which takes approximately 25 seconds, it does not appear that Stein ever looks in the pool to observe any of the swimmers.”

At the 11:46 mark of the video, “it appears that this is the last time that [the boy’s] head breaches the water and gives him an opportunity to take one last breath,” according to the arrest warrant affidavit.

The lifeguard then “finishes his lap around the perimeter of the pool and sits down in the lifeguard stand at the 11:54 mark. While sitting in the chair, Stein’s head is out of the view of the camera so it cannot be determined what he is looking or exactly what he is doing during this time as [the boy] is now motionless and fully submerged under water.”

At the 12:41 mark of the video—55 seconds after the boy gains his last breath—the young boy that he had been playing with earlier in the blue shirt “walks over to the area of the pool where [the boy] is, and sits on the edge of the pool with his feet in the water and appears to be watching [the boy] under the water. At the 13:15 mark this youth slides off the edge and into the pool and maneuvers over to [the boy] and stands near him just watching him but does not appear to say anything.”

At the 13:22 mark of the video, a young woman—possibly a camp counselor—comes to the pool and sits on its southern side, the affidavit said, “near the shallow end with her feet in the water, the opposite end from where [the boy] is, and is talking with three other youths that were in the pool.”

“This lasts for about 30 seconds before she gets up and walks away, out of the view of the camera in a westerly direction,” it said. “This female never looks in the direction of [the boy].”

At the 14:32 mark—two minutes and 46 seconds after the boy broke the surface of the water to get a final breath—Stein “dismounts the lifeguard chair and walks in a clockwise direction around the edge of the pool,” according to the arrest warrant application.

“Stein walks past the south [east] corner where [the boy] is just a few feet away, still fully submerged and still motionless, and never looks down at him,” it said.Stein gets three quarters of the way around the pool, to the western edge, which took approximately 30 seconds from when he got off the lifeguard chair, before Stein looks down into the pool for the first time on his loop and at that point he is on the complete opposite side of the pool, the furthest possible distance from where [the boy] is.”

The lifeguard then “doubles back and begins walking in a counter clockwise fashion around the pool until he reaches just west of the pool ladder that is positioned in the southeast corner of the pool,” according to Friel’s affidavit. “The video is now at the 15:35 mark and Stein stops at this position and looks down into the water and it appears that this is the first time that Stein recognizes that someone, [the boy], is under water, approximately 3 minutes and 49 seconds after [the boy] took his last breath. Stein stands in this position for approximately five seconds observing [the boy] and then moves to the eastern edge of the pool to get a better view. At the 15:46 mark, Stein sits on the edge of the pool and puts his feet in the water and continues to observe [the boy]. Approximately seven seconds later Stein jumps in the pool and at the 15:55 mark, Stein pulls a lifeless [the boy] above the water, 4 minutes and 9 seconds after [the boy] was last above water.”

Stein pulled the boy out, called for help and began performing CPR. Two others came to aid him— Samantha Bielen, aquatics manger and James Goodwin, aquatics operations manager. After the boy went to the hospital, both Bielen and Goodwin went to Stamford Police headquarters to provide voluntary statements about the incident, yet “Stein requested to have an attorney present at the time of his statement and did not provide officers with a statement on that date.”

Stein’s Stamford criminal defense lawyer Mark Sherman told in a statement that despite these developments, his client remains “immensely relieved that the child was released from the hospital and is recovering.”

“As a full-time lifeguard at Chelsea Piers for the last 5 years, the child’s safety and recovery has been his primary concern,” Sherman said. “Zach immediately provided a written account to his employer the day this happened, and provided additional details to police about the timeline of events leading up to Zach’s administration of CPR with his co-worker.”

Sherman declined to comment on specifics, saying only that “not every accident or mistake is a crime, especially when first responders are involved.”

Sherman said he expects his client to enter a plea of not guilty at his Sept. 19 arraignment.

While on scene, a police officer interviewed Stein, according to the arrest warrant application. Stein “expressed that he saw the boy under water so he jumped in and got him out,” Friel’s affidavit said.

“Stein estimated it was about five seconds,” it said.

In a prepared statement provided to police on Aug. 21 with this attorney, Stein said his “memory of what happened immediately before he pulled the boy out of the water is not certain.”

“Stein does remember that for about 10 or 15 minutes before he jumped in the pool to help the little boy he was the only lifeguard on duty at this pool,” Friel wrote in his affidavit, providing a synopsis of the lifeguard’s statement. “Stein does remember a camp counselor, not a lifeguard, may have assisted in watching the kids in the pool during some of this time. There were kids from the camp playing in the pool. Stein explained that as he usually does, he walked around the edge of the pool in a clockwise direction for several loops. Stein then remembers sitting down in the lifeguard chair for a couple of minutes to watch the kids swim and play. Stein then did a couple more walking loops around the pool before he noticed a boy who was not swimming and underwater. Stein then jumped in and when he realized that he was not coming up, Stein grabbed the boy and pulled him out of the water and immediately began CPR. Stein believes that he also immediately signaled or yelled over to a counselor to get the other lifeguard who came over to assist. When the other guard, Jim Goodwin, came over, the boy was breathing but was still not conscious. Stein explained that they continued to work on the boy following standard CPR protocol until EMS arrived to assist.”

Stein—who had been placed on paid leave from Chelsea Piers, pending the police investigation—told authorities that he is up-to-date on certifications in CPR, lifeguarding, first aid and defibrillator use, according to the affidavit. He also has an American Red Cross certificate, valid through next May, according to the affidavit.

Friel said that Chelsea Piers rotates lifeguards through positions every 15 minutes and that they get a break after three such rotations. In the “Splash Zone” overlooking the pool where the New Canaan boy drowned, lifeguards “sit in the observation chair and are required to continually ‘scan’ the pool from right to left and from bottom to top,” according to information from Chelsea Piers officials that Friel noted in the arrest warrant application.

“That guards should pay attention to the areas directly in front of the chair. They are also required to periodically walk the perimeter of the pool while scanning it.”

The company’s own rule regarding scanning requires that lifeguards use what they call a ‘10/10 rule.’ Under that, lifeguards recognize a distressed swimmer in no more than 10 seconds and gain access to the victim in no more than 10 seconds.

Chelsea Piers lifeguards are to “scan the area they are covering every 10 seconds,” according to Friel’s affidavit, and “should limit their scanning to a defined area of responsibility.”

“That they should be vigilant, scan from point to point, scan for potential problems, scan from the bottom of the pool to the surface, and scan crowded areas carefully.”

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