No criminal charges will be filed in connection with the death of a 5-year-old boy who drowned in January at the Durango Hot Springs, said 6th Judicial District Attorney Christian Champagne.
A little after 6 p.m. Jan. 17, rescue efforts started in an attempt to save the boy, who was swimming in the large pool at the resort north of Durango.
Over the past few weeks, the District Attorney’s Office has been reviewing the case, including security camera footage.
Champagne said the Oklahoma family was visiting the hot springs that day with several other families and friends. The father of the boy believed the boy was swimming and playing with other kids, and went to soak at an adjacent pool.
The boy, however, jumped into the pool in an area where he could not touch the bottom, Champagne said.
“The child had swimming lessons and was a good swimmer, but despite his attempts to tread water, was not able to stay afloat, became exhausted and slipped under the surface,” Champagne said.
What was most striking about the incident, Champagne said, was how many people – adults and children – were swimming around the boy who didn’t realize the boy was in distress.
Champagne said it’s common to think people drowning thrash around and scream for help. But in reality, he said people drowning are too exhausted to call attention to themselves.
“He did not show any outward signs of distress,” Champagne said. “He looked like he was treading water. His head (would) dip below the surface and pop back up. Eventually, he goes under and doesn’t come back up again.”
Chris Burke, spokesman for the La Plata County Sheriff’s Office, said several people were within arm’s reach of the boy.
“Other patrons were located outside the pool unaware the child was drowning,” he said.
And, because of the steam coming off the water and low lighting (it was dark at the time of the incident), it was not possible to see below the surface of the water, Burke said.
“Several minutes had passed before a patron saw the child,” Burke said. “The child was pulled from the water unresponsive, as rescue efforts were attempted in the hope the child would recover.”
A call to Durango Hot Springs co-owner Bryan Yearout was not returned.
Shane Nelson, a Durango resident, said in a previous interview he and other CPR-trained visitors at the hot springs administered CPR for an estimated 20 minutes until EMS arrived.
“There was a lot of hope, a lot of effort and a lot of faith, but we never found a pulse,” he said. “The CPR was done well. It was just really, really tragic.”
Champagne said, “We as a community must learn from this terrible tragedy and remember that many times drownings are silent and do not involve obvious attempts to get help.”
Champagne said about 10 people die from unintentional drowning every day in the United States, and of that number, two are children age 14 or younger. Of the approximately 750 children who will drown in a year, about 375 of them will do so within 25 yards of a parent or other adult, he said.
“The waving, splashing and yelling that dramatic conditioning television prepares us to look for is almost never seen in real life,” he said. “If a person appears to be in distress, ask them if they need help; if they do not or cannot answer, assume they are in danger. Teach your kids to swim, look out for each other, and let’s make sure this never happens again.”
Champagne said the family is not asking for any donations and wishes for their privacy to be respected.
“They really want to grieve,” he said.