AUSTIN, Texas – It was a great day for wakeboarding on Lake Travis, northwest of Austin.
The weather on June 11 had just begun to get into the 90s. It was still pleasant to be outside, but hot enough to want to be in the water.
At the One Wakeboard Camp, kids swam in the water and chatted on the boat, while 25-year-old Andrew Lossing operated the boat used for pulling wakeboarders.
But according to a lawsuit filed by the mother of one of the teenagers at the camp, it didn’t take long before the day at the lake turned deadly.
One of the kids on the boat, 15-year-old Sarah Pool, took off her life preserver. Later, she and two other 15-year-olds held onto the swim platform that extended from the back of the craft as the boat dragged the girls behind, the lawsuit says.
At some point, as Lossing navigated the boat slowly across the lake, the lawsuit says, the girls started complaining about the smell coming from the boat’s exhaust.
It’s possible no one on board knew of the dangers associated with being so close to a boat’s exhaust port. Keith Pinckard, Travis County’s chief medical examiner, said carbon monoxide poisoning from exhaust fumes is a common hidden danger for boaters. Inhaling the carbon monoxide that boats spew can cause people to pass out, because the gas, once it gets into the bloodstream, can starve the brain of oxygen.
Pool lost her grip on the swim platform and went underwater. Nobody knew she was in trouble until it was too late, her family’s attorneys say. When Pool didn’t resurface, the other teens hanging onto the back alerted Lossing, who drove the boat to where they thought she might have gone under.
“It was too little, too late,” says the lawsuit, which Pool’s mother has filed against Lossing and Austin Ridge Bible Church, which operated the wakeboard camp. “Nobody found Sarah until her body was recovered two days later, at the bottom of Lake Travis.”
Pool had a carboxyhemoglobin concentration of 52 percent, the autopsy report from Pinckard’s office says. A normal level for nonsmokers should be less than 5 percent. Essentially, her blood cells were carrying far too much carbon monoxide instead of oxygen to the brain, the report concluded.
Pool, the first-born of triplets, had just finished her freshman year at Westlake High School in Austin. Her Christian faith was important to her, and she loved animals, dancing and spending time with family and friends, those close to her said after her death.
“She loved like Jesus, unconditionally,” her friend Savannah Webster said after her body was found. “She was happy and silly and always made people smile.”
In the lawsuit, filed this month in Travis County District Court, Linda Pool claims that Austin Ridge Bible Church and Lossing were negligent and caused her daughter’s death. She is seeking more than $1 million in damages, including relief for medical expenses, emotional and physical pain, funeral expenses and court costs.
“It’s really just to help the family basically seek justice for the death of this child,” said Heidi Vicknair, one of the Houston-based attorneys representing Pool.
The church wants to resolve the lawsuit, said Lambert Boyd, director of operations at Austin Ridge Bible Church.
“The tragic accident that took Sarah’s life has left a painful void in the Pool family forever, and the Austin Ridge church family continues to pray for God’s comfort in their lives,” Boyd said. “Losing Sarah has also had a tremendous impact on our youth ministry and congregation. We are committed to working with all parties to bring resolution to the lawsuit. Because a lawsuit has been filed, we are unable to make any additional comments at this time.”
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