5-year-old drowned in YMCA pool with nearly 40 kids and 1 lifeguard, $20M lawsuit says

A YMCA in Virginia is facing a $20 million lawsuit two years after a 5-year-old boy drowned in the deep end of the pool during a daycare program.

Auston Wingo Jr. was one of nearly 40 children between the ages of 5 and 10 under the care of the YMCA of Pulaski County on Dec. 6, 2021, according to the lawsuit.

With one lifeguard on duty, all 38 children were allowed in the pool, including some who couldn’t swim, such as Auston, a complaint filed Dec. 4 says.

The boy was never given a swim test or a flotation device before he ended up in the deep end of the pool, where he drowned in 8 feet of water, according to the complaint.

The lifeguard and three other daycare staffers are accused of not noticing Auston until two children found him “floating face down underwater,” the complaint says.

Auston later died of his drowning injuries at a hospital, where one of his lungs was found “completely full of water,” according to the complaint.

He was “ignored, unattended, forgotten and neglected,” according to a news release on the lawsuit issued by the family’s attorneys, Dirk Padgett and Steve Baker.

Padgett and Baker filed the $20 million lawsuit on behalf of Auston’s family against the YMCA of Pulaski County and some of its employees.

The lawsuit seeks $15 million in compensatory damages and $5 million in punitive damages and additional costs and interest, the complaint shows.

An investigation into Auston’s death confirmed one lifeguard and three employees were in charge of watching 38 children in the pool, a “larger than normal” amount that day, according to a special prosecutor’s February 2022 report published by WSET-TV.

The report by Bedford County Commonwealth’s Attorney Wes Nance, based on his investigation into Auston’s death, said his death wasn’t an “intentional act.”

He determined charges related to criminal negligence weren’t warranted.

Dave Adkins, the CEO of the YMCA of Pulaski County, told McClatchy News in a statement that staff members were “devastated” when Auston died.

“While we cannot comment on pending litigation, the Y takes all allegations of misdoing very seriously and are fully cooperating in all facets of the legal process,” Adkins said.

‘Lawsuit represents the family’s effort to seek justice’

Auston, a boy remembered for his “unshakable optimism,” was a student at Critzer Elementary School, McClatchy News previously reported.

On Dec. 6, 2021, more children than usual attended the YMCA daycare program because the public school district was “conducting virtual learning,” according to Nance’s report.

The one lifeguard who was on duty, and is named as a defendant in the lawsuit, is accused of looking at her phone when Auston and other children were in the pool, according to the complaint.

She “had an unobstructed view of the area of the pool where (Auston) was struggling to stay above water,” the complaint says.

Auston “frantically fought for his life in eight feet of water” and went under “approximately thirty six feet in front of the lifeguard stand,” according to the complaint.

One of the three childcare workers ultimately pulled Auston from the water, the complaint says.

They’re accused of improperly administering first aid while the lifeguard couldn’t find an Automated External Defibrillator because the YMCA didn’t have one “readily available,” according to the complaint.

When Pulaski police officers arrived at the YMCA around 2:30 p.m. on Dec. 6 for a report of a potential drowning, Auston was unresponsive, according to police, McClatchy News reported.

Auston was airlifted to Roanoke Memorial Hospital and declared dead at 10:16 p.m, police said.

“While a tragedy occurred here, it did not occur for the reasons alleged in the lawsuit,” attorneys for the YMCA said in a statement to McClatchy News.

In Nance’s report, he wrote that when Auston drowned, the lifeguard watched the whole pool while two other employees watched the shallow end and the deep end. A third child care worker was taking children to the bathroom, according to the report.

One adult who was at the YMCA as their child swam said the employees were “attentive,” Nance noted.

“The facts collected show the adults in question were keeping lookout on the pool, were fulfilling their legal responsibility, but unfortunately failed to see the child before it was too late,” Nance wrote.

Meanwhile, the lawsuit demands a trial by jury.

“Many of the prior employees of the YMCA have moved on — something Auston will never do — so this lawsuit represents the family’s effort to seek justice for the loss of their son and to obtain the accountability they deserve,” the news release said.

The day after Auston’s death, Pulaski County Public Schools wrote on Facebook that it was “devastated” by his loss.

“Auston was a kindhearted kid who exhibited unshakable optimism and an incredible love for his family, especially his older sister Tatyana,” the district said. ”He will be missed far beyond what words can convey.”

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