TRAVIS COUNTY, Texas (KXAN) — For the second time in less than three months, Travis County is investigating a drowning at Hamilton Pool. Monday dive teams found the man’s body. Deputies say he went underwater last night and never resurfaced. His name has not been released.
This comes after a 17-year-old was rescued from Hamilton Pool after being underwater for nearly 30 minutes. Swimmers nearby gave Anthony Dorsett CPR, but he died in August at the hospital.
Since Dorsett’s death, we’ve learned people have complained to Travis County about not staffing the pool with lifeguards.
A public information search by KXAN found that Celeste Domsch emailed Travis County wanting answers. “A young man went under and was eventually pulled out. Given all the visitors, and the previous drownings in 2012 and 2010, why are there no lifeguards at this pool?” she wrote in an online complaint form. “I will never visit Hamilton Pool again until there are lifeguards. It is unconscionable that there are no guards after multiple drownings.”
We wanted to know why Hamilton Pool was different from Barton Springs Pool in downtown Austin.
“They’re all good. They’re nice. They’re friendly.” said Cory Etzkorn of the lifeguards at Barton Springs. He was one of many people swimming in Barton Springs Pool Monday. He says he feels safer with someone watching over.
“I mean I definitely would try something a little more crazy on the diving board knowing if something happened someone was there,” he said.
Numbers back up that feeling. We filed an open records request for all the emergency services called to Barton Springs Pool for the past 10 years. Out of 19 calls for service, no one died. But in the same time, crews were called to Hamilton Pool more than 60 times. Four people died.
So we wanted to know what was stopping them from putting in life guards. Dan Perry with Travis County Parks says Hamilton Pool is not a city pool like many of us use.
It’s part of the Balcones Canyonlands Preserve so there are limits on construction. The US Fish and Wildlife sets rules on staff, structures, and what can be done in the park. While a lifeguard post could be built at Hamilton Pool, Perry says the beach part of the pool is always fluctuating and changing due to flooding events.
Perry tells KXAN years ago Travis County looked into starting a lifeguard program, but they couldn’t find candidates who have Open Water Certifications. Those certifications are the same life guards have along the Gulf Coast. Demand for those qualified candidates is larger the closer you get to the sea. Perry says there are few with that certification in Central Texas.
“The skill level is hard to find,” he told KXAN by phone.
Most of the parks Travis County oversees are funded by fees visitors pay when they enter. Tax funding is often tight. The Travis County Commissioners Court sets the budget each year and they don’t have as much funding as the City of Austin or other jurisdictions.
Travis County does plan to add safety measures next year. They plan to place more life rings around the pool and before next spring they plan to start a loaner life jacket program with Colin’s Hope Foundation, similar programs exist at Bob Wentz Park and Mansfield Dam Park.
After this latest person drowned, a viewer asked us why. We’ve reported on more than a dozen cases this year, but authorities don’t typically answer that question.
In August, one man dove into Lake Travis to help another swimmer who was struggling. But he never made it back to the boat. At the time, officials told us the wind may have made it more difficult to swim, but that was the only information provided about what may have caused the drowning.
Monday, the Travis County Medical Examiner told us they may mention the weather conditions in their reports. They may also include details about an injury suffered right before someone drowns. But they are careful not to speculate why because there are countless factors that can lead up to a death. They say it can be a very lengthy process that is best left to the courts.
Hamilton pool has signs posted and information on their website saying; they do not have a life guard on duty, swim at your own risk.