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Vacationer explains how he found drowning victim’s body when Seattle Fire missed it


Tom Fleming’s vacation in Seattle took an unlikely turn when he went for a dip in the pool at Quality Inn & Suites Seattle Center.

After a full day of sightseeing, visiting Pike Place Market and the Space Needle, Fleming, his wife, and their in-laws up from Portland, decided to relax by going for a swim.

But after a few minutes in the water, Fleming says they realized something was wrong.

“Once we were in the water and started looking down, you put your hand in the water you couldn’t see your hand below 18 inches from the surface. It totally disappeared,” Fleming tells KIRO Radio’s Luke Burbank Show.

It was the filthiest, murkiest pool water he’d ever seen and he and his family decided to get out. He also observed the water appeared to be several inches below where it should be to keep water circulating through the top skimmers. Fleming informed the front desk.

“When I brought that to the attention of the guest clerk she advised me, ‘Oh yeah, that’s because we had to drain a little water from the pool because there was a reported drowning here.'”

After hearing this, Fleming went back to the pool where he’d seen some children swimming and advised the parents that due to the pool’s condition and what he’d just been told by the front desk, it probably wasn’t a safe place to be swimming.

Fleming returned to the front desk for something he’d forgotten. While there, he saw one of the hotel employees fishing the deep end of the pool with the pool’s body recovery hook.

Fleming returned to the pool area to learn that the drowning report had happened just earlier that day. Firefighters had responded, but were not able to locate a man whose friend said he was at the bottom of the pool. Responders reportedly decided the man had left the pool and hotel.

The hotel employee was joined in the second search attempt by two of the missing man’s friends.

Fleming, a retired firefighter, observed the recovery hook did not reach the bottom of the pool, and he urged the worker to get any one of the pool cleaning wands that might reach.

Finally, using a longer tool, Fleming did reach the victim, Tesfaye Girman Deboch.

Firefighters were summoned back to the hotel at 8:12 p.m.

The first call to 911 had been made at 5:30 p.m. after Deboch’s colleague, Pavan Dhanireddy, who could not swim, witnessed him splashing and flailing his hands in the deep end of the pool.

When firefighters arrived to the second call, they administered CPR, but Deboch “did not respond to any lifesaving efforts,” according to the fire department’s statement.

Fleming says he sees how the fire department could miss Deboch due to the conditions in the pool.

“Trying to find a victim in that pool is the equivalent of looking for a needle in a haystack because you’re totally blind. You don’t know where he is with the underwater currents. He could be moving around different places of the pool.”

The Seattle Fire Department reports firefighters conducted a grid search of the pool using a rescue hook, and a thermal imaging camera. The fire department is reviewing why its first responders did not find Deboch.

“Since it is now clear that the drowning victim was in the pool during the earlier search, the department is reviewing the incident and will determine whether to revise any water rescue procedures,” the department said in a statement.

Officials for Public Health Seattle & King County say the pool has a history of problems and should not have been open because of the murkiness of the water.

When the health department learned of Deboch’s June 30 drowning, officials examined the pool and last Wednesday closed it again. The health department is also conducting its own investigation.

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