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Lack of supervision cited in girl's drowning

Aug 29 2012

A seven-year-old girl drowned at Westwood Lake in 2010 due to a lack of supervision, the B.C. Coroners Service has determined.

A tourist found the body of Isabelle Paige MernickleHolmgren in 1.5 metres of water at the popular Nanaimo lake the afternoon of Aug. 13, 2010.

Isabelle was one of 15 children on an outing with Cedar Fun Zone day camp. The camp was supervised by two adult leaders and three teenage leaders in training.

There were three city lifeguards on duty that day and three teen "game leaders" at the lake.

Provincial regulatory changes in 2007 exempted day camps that operate less than 13 weeks a year from B.C. childcare licensing regulations.

Final publication of the coroners report was delayed repeatedly by numerous reviews. It was released earlier this month.

Isabelle was an inexperienced swimmer, having learned to swim the year before, according to the report.

She often used a diving mask and snorkel in the pool at home and on this day she was allowed to bring the gear to the lake.

Her mother gave her a life-jacket and made sure she had it on before leaving her at the lake.

Camp children were not allowed to enter the water until city lifeguards were on duty and less experienced swimmers were required to wear lifejackets.

Isabelle joined in a game of water basketball at the floating raft and was seen swimming to and from the raft several times, wearing her lifejacket.

The last time the camp leader saw her alive was 10 minutes before her body was found, when the leader conducted a head count from the raft. Isabelle was kneedeep in water, 60 centimetres from shore, without a lifejacket, mask or snorkel. The beach was becoming crowded.

When she was found, the girl wore a mask and snorkel. Despite attempts to revive her by lifeguards, paramedics and Nanaimo Regional General Hospital staff, she died.

After the drowning, the City of Nanaimo asked the Lifesaving Society of B.C. and Yukon to conduct an aquatic incident review audit.

The audit produced 22 recommendations, including lifeguard certification for waterfront level training, the national standard for outdoor beaches.

The city has also written a separate operations manual for Westwood Lake since the event.

The coroners report listed failure to wear a life-jacket and lack of direct supervision as contributing factors in Isabelle's death.

Coroners also called for a review of childcare licensing regulations for day camps and a higher standard of supervision.

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