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Morses Pond may reopen after safety consultant's visit, Wellesley police chief says

Posted by Jaclyn Reiss  June 18, 2013 01:23 PM

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Wellesley's Morses Pond may reopen by this weekend after an independent consultant visits the beach today to investigate the facility's safety protocols and physical environment following the drowning of a 10-year-old boy earlier this month, said Wellesley Police Chief Terrence Cunningham.

As long as the investigator doesn't find any unexpectedly alarming safety issues today, the pool could reopen by the end of the week, Cunningham said.

"If he gives it the green light, we could do it in the next day or two," Cunningham said. "Fingers crossed, I'm hoping he comes in and doesn't see anything glaringly wrong, and if anything, will just say that we need to tweak this and tweak that. Then we can open the beach, and follow up with a full report."

The investigation comes after 10-year-old Alexander Glennon visited the beach June 1 with his father and father's fiancee, along with other family members. Lifeguards approached a woman looking for the boy at about 6 p.m., and then activated an emergency action plan to find him, according to police.

Staff ordered 60 to 70 people out of the water, called 911, and began an organized search, police said.

Wellesley Fire Department divers found Glennon in a swimming area about an hour after he was reported missing, Cunningham previously told the Globe, noting that the pond was fully staffed with eight lifeguards at the time, and that they did “absolutely what they were trained to do.”

Although Cunningham remains optimistic that the beach could open this week, Hans Larsen, the town’s executive director, was vague in providing selectmen with a reopening timeline during a Morses Pond update at Monday night's Board of Selectmen meeting.

“Morses will not be reopened until any issues are fully addressed to the satisfaction of officials,” he said. “As further decisions are made, we will continue making updates online.”

The town is hiring two independent investigators to look into the facility after this month's drowning. Shawn DeRosa of DeRosa Aquatic Consulting will inspect safety policies and procedures and conduct a site visit today; and Jeff Snyder of SeaVision Underwater Solutions, Inc. will survey the bottom of the water to see if there are any unsafe areas.

“We want to determine whether there are any anomalies of the bottom that are incompatible with a safe swimming area,” Larsen said.

DeRosa will also study the beach’s emergency action plan; staff qualifications, responsibilities and ongoing training programs; placement of staff at the beach; and overall management operational procedures, Larsen said.

The scope of the investigation also calls for DeRosa to visit the facility after the pond has reopened for an operational audit, to make sure all policies, procedures and safety protocols are functioning safely, Larsen said.

“As you would expect, concern for the safety of residents and other guests who visit the pond is the highest priority,” Larsen said Monday night. ”It’s important to subject all aspects of Morses to a comprehensive independent review.”

The independent reviews are separate from the Wellesley Police Department’s investigations into the drowning, which have been completed pending a toxicology report from the medical examiner’s office, Cunningham said.

"We've wrapped up our investigation," he said. "We have completed over 30 interviews, which included lifeguards, staff, recreation officials, and family members of victim. We're still waiting for the toxicology report, which could take six to eight weeks, but it looks like the cause was accidental by drowning."

At last night's meeting, some residents were critical of the way the search and rescue operation was organized after Glennon was reported missing.

Trond Undheim said he hoped officials would closely study the pond's emergency action plan to better incorporate any beach-goers who wished to help in the search and rescue process.

"I felt helpless being kept out of water," said Undheim, a Wellesley resident who said he was present at the time of the drowning. "I made my point to the officials there, and also to police after, that we wanted to be involved in the rescue operation. But that was not taken into account. That was probably not the best use of a lot of human resources on-site that could swim and that could help."

Board of Selectmen chairwoman Terri Tsagaris said the issue had come to officials' attention, and would be studied closely.

"This is an issue that has been raised to us and police and recreation staff, and is something the independent auditors will look at," she said.

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Jaclyn Reiss can be reached at jaclyn.reiss@globe.com

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