Early Friday morning, Omar Burress climbed the fence of the Douglass Park pool to sneak in for a swim. At about 1:30 a.m., police were dispatched to the pool where they discovered Burress’ body in the water.
The night Burress drowned, three men also snuck into a gated pool and were arrested and charged with trespassing in the first degree at the Campus View Apartments pool.
On Sunday, two 14-year-old boys were charged with trespassing in the first degree after an alarm was triggered at the Albert Oakland Pool.
“It should be pretty obvious to not go into the pool if there is a six-foot fence around it,” Columbia Police Capt. Brad Nelson said.
According to city ordinance 3109.41, “an outdoor swimming pool shall be provided with a barrier that is at least 72 inches above finished ground level.” The ordinance includes public and private pools.
However, some believe the gated fences and trespassing signs do not apply to them and choose to scale the 6-foot barrier. And, for the most part, the barrier is the only obstacle keeping out trespassers.
“There aren’t enough officers to assign them to watch the pools after hours,” Nelson said. “To arrest trespassers we rely on complaints provided by community members who heard people in the pool.”
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2000 there were 3,482 unintentional drownings in the United States, and drowning remains the second-leading cause of injury-related death among children under 15.
“In my 22 years of this job, Omar is the first to drown in an outdoor public pool,” said Mike Hood, director of Parks and Recreation.
After working pool hours, outdoor public pools in Columbia are secured with 6-foot gates, locked and the pool lights remain on.
During the day, each of Columbia’s five public pools is guarded by trained lifeguards. Also, a park ranger patrols the pools until 11 p.m.
“We have an outstanding lifeguard staff,” Hood said. “We have an extremely high standard for lifeguards during open hours.”