Marin JCC sued by parents of drowned 6-year-old camper

The parents of a 6-year-old girl who drowned last summer at the Osher Marin Jewish Community Center's pool have filed a negligence and wrongful death suit.

The couple, Michelle Lujan and Benjamin Isaacs, are seeking unspecified damages in the suit filed May 23 in Marin County Superior Court.

Their daughter, Natasha Lujan-Isaacs, was a participant in the JCC's Haverim summer camp when she died June 28 after being pulled from about 3-1/2 feet of water in the nearly Olympic-size pool.

Attempts to resuscitate Natasha, who lived in San Francisco, were unsuccessful. She was in the first week of camp and did not know how to swim.

Two lifeguards, seven camp counselors and 45 children were in or near the pool at the time.

Named in the civil suit are the JCC and two staff members. The suit alleges the JCC "failed to provide adequate supervision and/or lifeguards" at the pool, and that it also failed to have qualified lifeguards or supervisors on site.

Reached for comment, Ron Mogel, executive director of the San Rafael-based JCC, said, "Clearly, our hearts go out to the family of Natasha."

Mogel said last week he hadn't seen the complaint and as a result, didn't want to comment on it. However, he noted, "I know we operate a safe pool."

In addition to the JCC, the suit names Barbara Ann Schwartz, who directed the camp last year, and lifeguard William Winters as defendants.

Thomas J. Brandi, the San Francisco attorney representing the dead girl's parents, did not return phone calls from the Bulletin.

The suit alleges in part that the defendants "negligently caused" Natasha's death by failing to safeguard youngsters and by allowing children who could not swim into "pools having water of a dangerous depth."

The suit further contends that the defendants failed to instruct lifeguards and others in "safe practices" and also violated state health and safety regulations.

After Natasha's death, the JCC closed the pool to campers for about two weeks. When it prepared to reopen the pool last summer, the JCC announced plans to reduce the number of youngsters allowed in the water, increase the number of lifeguards and institute a swim test for campers. It also hired a new aquatics instructor.

"We did a thorough review of all our policies and procedures," Mogel said. "We feel that we operate a very safe pool."

Mogel confirmed a published report that Winters' CPR certification had lapsed about a month before the drowning. "All I can say is that had no impact on the accident," Mogel said.

According to the Marin Independent Journal, a Marin County health inspector said at the time that he didn't think the lack of a current certificate contributed to Natasha's death.

A representative of the county's division of environmental health services declined comment this week because of the pending litigation.

JCC attorney Mike Senneff of Santa Rosa had not seen the lawsuit last week, but said the operations of the JCC's pool "exceed" standards required of it. Senneff called the drowning "just a real tragedy."

He noted that Winters "was a very experienced lifeguard and was trained and knowledgeable about CPR processes."

Of the suit, Senneff said: "It was our hope that we wouldn't get to this point, and matters would be resolved in one fashion or another, but that seems to have gone by the boards once the lawsuit was filed."