Texas Water Park Dangers Known

Fort Worth firefighters pull the body of a drowning victim from the Water Gardens in downtown Fort Worth, Texas, Wednesday, June 16, 2004. Three children and an adult died Wednesday after they were pulled from 10 to 12 feet of water at the downtown attraction where swimming is not allowed. (AP Photo/Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Glen E. Ellman) AP

A water garden where four tourists drowned last month was described as "extremely dangerous" by a city attorney 30 years ago, according to a published report Thursday.

"I can't stress too strongly the fact that there are dangerous and hazardous conditions ... into which children of all ages can readily fall and slide," wrote then-City Attorney S.G. Johndroe Jr. in an April 27, 1974, letter to the city's parks director.

"Even a cursory examination of the premises reveals that extremely dangerous conditions are present."

The victims, three children and an adult from Chicago, drowned June 16 in a 9-foot-deep pool in the downtown Fort Worth Water Gardens, a park that is not intended for swimming.

Police said the victims had obeyed signs warning against swimming in the fountains, waterfalls and pools, but one child apparently slipped and fell, another grabbed her hand and was pulled in, and the other youngster and the adult tried to rescue them.

The city released hundreds of documents about the water garden to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram under the state's open records laws.

The documents include memos from Park and Recreation Director Charles Campbell and a safety expert warning of numerous hazards, particularly in the Active Pool, where the victims drowned. They recommended that the city refuse responsibility for the Water Gardens unless fencing and other safeguards were installed.

The memos were from 1974, the year the 5.4-acre park designed by famed architect Philip Johnson opened.

No fences were ever installed, and although written warnings surfaced at least twice over the years, no additional action was taken, according to the documents.

City Attorney David Yett declined to comment to the newspaper.

Most of the Water Gardens reopened last month with new signs warning that swimming and wading are not allowed. The Active Pool remains closed.

Cleo Deadmon of Chicago, the grandmother of 11-year-old victim Juanitrice Deadmon, said the early warnings are disturbing.

"It saddens me that lives had to be lost before something was done," she said. "I don't think the city did enough to protect visitors to the park."

The Fort Worth City Council has set aside $500,000 to cover legal claims that are expected over the drownings. The action is not an admission of liability, but "a gesture from our city," Mayor Mike Moncrief said last week.
  • Lloyd Vries

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