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Health District approved fewer lifeguards at Cowabunga Bay

Posted at 6:00 PM, Jun 19, 2017
and last updated 2017-06-20 14:23:30-04

UPDATE: Family of the boy in 2015 near drowning accident respond to Sunday's incident. See their full statement following this article. 

This wasn't the first time a child nearly drowned at Cowabunga Bay. 

Contact 13 looks into a previous tragedy that left a boy severely injured for life. 

Are there enough lifeguards at Cowabunga Bay to keep swimmers safe?  That's the question one family started asking more than two years ago after their son nearly drowned in the wave pool. 

It happened in May 2015. According to court documents, 6-year-old Leland Gardner fell off an inner tube and went under water for a lengthy period of time. He suffered brain injuries and requires 24-hour care for life. 

The lawsuit his family filed is expected to go to trial next year.  It claims Cowabunga Bay "habitually operated its wave pool with only 5-7 lifeguards," when they were required to have 17.

But that changed last year, because the Health District gave the water park a variance, allowing them to operate the wave pool with only 7 to 8 lifeguards.   

Based on those lower numbers, the Health District says they found no violations during an inspection at Cowabunga Bay today, or in an annual inspection there about a week ago. 

We also learned that the American Red Cross offers additional lifeguard training beyond basic certification, but it's not required by the Health District.  

We asked Cowabunga Bay for additional comment or new information, but they referred us to this prior statement:

"There was a medical incident at the park tonight. Our thoughts and prayers are with the family involved, and we will provide support to the family as needed and requested.  We cannot provide further details at this stage as we are in the process of  investigating the incident. Please allow us the time needed to investigate the circumstances fully.” - Cowabunga Bay Management

Attorneys for the Gardner family released this statement Monday in response to the accident on Sunday:
Peter and Christian Gardner, whose son, Leland, also suffered a catastrophic near-drowning in the wave pool at Cowabunga Bay on May 27, 2015, have authorized their attorneys at the law firm of Campbell & Williams to release the following statement:
“As a result of the numerous press inquiries received over the past 24 hours, we would like to issue the following statement."
"We wish to express our deepest sympathies and sincere concern for the young boy who was involved in the near-drowning that occurred in the wave pool at Cowabunga Bay yesterday. We intend to offer our complete support to assist the child and his family members in any way as we are all too familiar with the challenges that they will face both now and in the future. We pray both the child and his family have a complete and speedy recovery from this terrible and completely preventable tragedy. We kindly ask the press to respect our privacy and to direct all future inquiries to our attorneys at Campbell & Williams.”