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Parents of girl who drowned at camp seeking help from Legislature
Austin American-Statesman - 5/3/2021
Six-year-old Cati DelaPeña drowned in 2019 after a Cedar Park church-affiliated summer camp took her to a city pool.
Her parents, Korina and John DelaPeña of Jonestown, are hoping a proposed bill gets passed in the Legislature that would prevent another family from facing the same kind of tragedy.
After High Hopes Sports and After School took Cati to the city of Cedar Park'sButtercup Pool on June 4, 2019, a lifeguard found her floating in the pool. She died a day later at a hospital.
Her parents said in a recent interview that Cati was not wearing a life jacket even though they had told the sports program that she could not swim.
The proposed bill requires schools, preschools, day camps and youth camps to identify children who cannot swim or are at risk while swimming and to put life jackets on them. It also would require that child care organizations provide the owner of the swimming area with a list of children who cannot swim.
State Rep. Vicki Goodwin, D-Austin, is sponsoring the bill.
"Kori and John came to my office and shared the heartbreaking story of Cati's drowning," Goodwin said. "I was moved by their desire to turn their tragedy into something valuable, and I was inspired by their initiative in proposing the need for legislation."
Cati, who had Down syndrome, always followed instructions, said John DelaPeña. "She was amazing and full of joy," he said.
She could read and write and attended school, said her mother. "We can't do anything about what happened," Korina DeLaPeña, "but we can advocate to be her voice."
Cati's older sister, who was in the sports program and at the pool when the drowning happened, also had told program staff that Cati could not swim, John DelaPeña said.
The DelaPeñas sued High Hopes Sports and After School as well as the city of Cedar Park in 2019 over Cati's death. The lawsuit is pending. The former supervisor of the summer camp also has been charged with criminally negligent homicide.
The lawyer for High Hopes Sports and After School declined to comment about the lawsuit. The executive director for High Hopes, Nina Peña, also declined to comment, but she said the program has not returned to any pools and "has no plans to do so."
The city of Cedar Park does not comment about pending litigation, city spokeswoman Jennie Huerta said.
Seth Carthel, the site director for High Hopes at the time Cati died, was indicted in December for criminally negligent homicide. The indictment said he failed to supervise employees, failed to supervise Cati, failed to implement a safety plan and failed to advise employees of special consideration for the girl.
Carthel's lawyer declined to comment about the case. According to a report from Child Protective Services, the summer camp had 112 children at the pool when Cati drowned, although its licensed limit was 110 children.
The state agency's report also said the girl's parents had written on her enrollment form for the summer camp that she could not swim.
"What happened to Cati was eminently preventable," Goodwin said. "Children who cannot swim should wear a life jacket when they are in or near water. (House Bill) 1676 will help prevent future drownings by requiring those who are caring for children who cannot swim to put a life jacket on them."
READ: Cedar Park child care program under investigation after girl's death
Last year, 87 children drowned in Texas, and seven children have drowned statewide this year, according to statistics from the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services.
This article originally appeared on Austin American-Statesman: Parents of girl who drowned at camp seeking help from Legislature
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