Toddler dies after swimming accident at Lake Boutin

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

A 2-year-old Cape Girardeau boy was pronounced dead Monday afternoon at a St. Louis hospital, about 16 hours after his lifeless body was found in less than 3 feet of water at Lake Boutin in Trail of Tears State Park.

The child, Juan Pichardo, was being watched by his mother, Maria Delores Pichardo, and father, also Juan Pichardo, of Cape Girardeau when he reportedly wandered unnoticed into deep waters Sunday. Pichardo's 3-year-old brother and a 9-month-old sister were also present.

The accident occurred at the swimming area on the east side of 22-acre Lake Boutin. The child's mother told others she looked up at about 7 p.m. and the child was missing.

"He was playing by his mother at the edge of the sand. She turned around and he was gone," said Abby Aguirre, pastor at Nazarene First Church and family spokesperson. "She didn't know where he was. She thought he was kidnapped."

Then Juan's mother saw the floatation ring floating in the water by itself and knew he must have gone in the water, Aguirre said.

After 10 to 15 minutes of searching, the boy was located at the bottom in less than four feet of water.

Howard Caldwell, a Saint Francis Medical Center telemetry technician and trained paramedic, carried the boy out of the water and performed CPR until first responders loaded the child into an ambulance.

"The child was cold and blue in lips. The rest of skin was pale white. I checked several times for pulse and was not able to find one," Caldwell said. "I performed CPR for, at the most, 15 minutes. As I pressed on stomach he regurgitated food and a large amount of water, but at no point did we get a heartbeat."

Caldwell, who was there swimming with his son, said he was monitoring the child before he was noticed missing and believed he was adequately supervised. He said the boy was running back and forth between his mother and father in ankle-deep water, but Caldwell did not see the boy wearing a flotation ring.

At about 7:30 p.m. the child was taken by ambulance to Southeast Missouri Hospital after which he was taken by helicopter to Children's Hospital in St. Louis. He died at 1:48 p.m. Monday.

Signs are posted warning bathers that no lifeguards are on duty at the lake.

"We were just all looking and hoping and praying that the child would make it," said park superintendent Hershel Price. "It's a very sad thing. From my point of view, and this is just my opinion, at that age you need to watch children all the time. Somebody let their guard down."

Price said three drownings have occurred at the lake during his 16 years as supervisor.

Lt. David James of the Cape Girardeau County Sheriff's Department said his officers did an on-site investigation and found nothing that "reeked of negligence."

"This was not an unattended child. This was a situation where the child was misplaced or wandered off and mom thought dad was watching him and dad thought mom was watching him," said James. "As far as criminal charges, we didn't find anything that was at the level of negligence."

Because of the boy's age, an automatic review of the circumstances of the death is mandated by a Child Fatality Review Panel. The panel will include a prosecutor, law enforcement officials, a representative from the Division of Family Services and others.

Jim Hanks of the East Cape Girardeau County Fire District was on the scene four minutes after the child was discovered. He said more than 25 of his firefighters had been at the beach all afternoon conducting water-rescue training. The officers, though, left at 5:30 p.m. "There wouldn't have been much else we could do," he said. "CPR was administered right away, that's all that can be done until the ambulance comes."

tgreaney@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 245

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