After child drowns,  community films safety PSA

Looking at the idyllic swimming pool at the King Crossing subdivision in north Katy, it’s difficult to imagine that a horrible tragedy occurred there recently. But on Sunday, May 5, a young boy* drowned to in the community pool. There were other people in the pool, but no one saw the young child slip beneath the surface. However, the witnesses watched in horror as Waller-Harris County ESD 200 Fire and EMS removed his body from the community pool.

The child’s death shocked the community and made local first responders more acutely aware of how few drown-prevention resources are available. The horrific event inspired Harris County ESD #48, Waller- Harris County ESD 200 and the King Crossing community to join forces to film a powerful- and useful- anti-drowning public service announcement (PSA). 

When Lieutenant Simon VanDyk had the idea to film a PSA at the site of a recent drowning, he was worried that the idea might offend some of the residents. “We interviewed some of the people that were here when (the drowning) happened,” he explained. “We didn't want to come do this and have parents get upset because it was so soon. But all the people we interviewed said, ‘We're totally on board.’” 

The video was filmed at the site of the drowning. Children from the community, many of whom witnessed the accident first hand, spoke in front of a camera to discuss the event and recite drown prevention information.

At one point in the video, a small child says to the camera, “In the time it takes to text a friend, someone can drown.”

Lucas Tharp, age 12, was at the pool when the boy’s body was removed. “I was here when the ambulance came. I was swimming with my friends. I saw the kid,” he recalled. 

The image still haunts him. “I thought about it for a while. I couldn't go to sleep the first day.”

Lucas’ father, Jason Tharp, is a Lieutenant for ESD #48. Jason suggested his son be involved in the PSA because it might be cathartic for him. 

Said Lucas: “I still think about it. I feel mad and sad. I was blown away by how it happened at our pool. There were people everywhere, and no one saw it or had anything to do with it. I think being here and doing this and helping other kids will help me. Just the thought of being able to prevent something like this happening again makes me feel better.”

In a way, Lucas’ trauma over what he witnessed inspired the PSA. His father conducted a Google search to see if there were any resources he could find to help his son, but he was struck by how little he found.

Crews from ESD 200 and ESD #48 decided to join forces to produce a comprehensive and valuable resources with drown-prevention information that could be easily shared.

King Crossing resident Jenny Phillips was not present at the time of the incident, but she wanted to be involved in the PSA because her daughter, Anistyn Phillips, nearly died from a drowning accident. Anistyn was only two-years-old when she took her floaties off and slipped quietly into the water. No one saw her go into the pool

Fortunately, Anistyn’s older brother, Camden Phillips noticed his sister’s body at the bottom of the pool, and they were able to rescue her before it was too late.

Jenny recalled, “My son just happened to get up to throw trash away, and he yelled, ‘Mommy, why is Anistyn at the bottom of the pool?’”

Anistyn survived, but Jenny never forgot the horror of that moment. Even as she told her story, tears formed in her eyes. “My story had a happy ending but a lot of people’s don't,” she said. Jenny hoped that by telling her story on camera, she could increase awareness of how easy it is for a child to drown, even with many people present.

According to VanDyk, the circumstances surrounding Anistyn’s near-drowning are typical.

“When we interviewed witnesses, the biggest thing we kept hearing was that drowning doesn't look like in the movies. Somebody simply slips under the water, and they don't come back up,” said VanDyk. “A lot of the people there were parents, and they just couldn't grapple with the idea that they were there. What if they had done something?”

VanDyk believes that the timeliness of the film will help it reach more people, thereby preventing future deaths. He also hopes that speaking on film will help some of the witnesses process their trauma.

“We had a drowning that was very visible. Anytime something like this happens, we want to take the opportunity to have a dialogue,” VanDyk explained. “We thought this is a great opportunity to try to bring the community together. It was very traumatic. There were a lot of people at the pool that day. Many of the kids here today were there when it happened. So we thought, ‘Maybe we can give these people a chance to feel like they can prevent it in the future and give them a way to be involved.”

Captain Dusten Orsak was the responding officer from ESD 200 the day the young boy drowned. Even as a seasoned EMT, the child’s death deeply affected him. “Anytime you get a call like this, especially with children, it's going to affect you. You take it home with you. You wear those scars,” said Orsak.

Like VanDyk, Orsak hopes the PSA will help prevent future drownings. “Something like this is going to impact this neighborhood for years,” he said. “From this experience, so much can be learned. It doesn't stop here, and it should never stop.”

The film is in the final stage of production and will be available to the public in the next few days. For the quickest updates, visit Harris County ESD #48’s Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/HCESD48/.

*The child has not yet been identified by name as the investigation is still ongoing.

Update: The child's age has been removed from this story because there are conflicting reports of his age. The information will be updated when the investigation is complete.