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Student, 14, Drowns in Long Beach School Pool : Tragedy: Victim was to have had first swimming lesson. Parents dispute official version of accident.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A 14-year-old student at Jordan High School in Long Beach drowned Wednesday while classmates swam nearby, unaware that he had lost consciousness and sunk to the bottom of the school’s pool.

Ryan Hardison, a ninth-grader and member of the Junior ROTC, did not know how to swim and was nervous about what was to have been his first lesson, his parents said Wednesday night.

Loretta and James Hardison, despondent and angry, questioned what their son was doing in eight feet of water, when he barely let waves reach past his ankles at the beach.

“If there were adults there, then what was my son doing on the bottom of the pool?” Loretta Hardison asked. “I blame the school and the lifeguard.”

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School officials said the pool was supervised at all times by three adults--a lifeguard, a physical education teacher and an ROTC teacher.

According to Principal Alta Cooke, lifeguard Mike Quigley spotted Hardison in trouble at about 11:15 a.m., pulled him from the pool and tried to resuscitate him.

Paramedics continued the effort and took the ninth-grader to Doctor’s Hospital of Lakewood, where he was pronounced dead at 12:05 p.m.

“Quigley did a super job. He stayed with the kid. He worked. He worked. He worked. He sweated and sweated. At one time, he did get a slight pulse rate, but then it went out again,” said Ron Massey, a physical education teacher who was with a class of beginning swimmers in the shallow end of the Olympic-sized pool.

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Hardison and his ROTC classmates were in the deep end, Massey said. The physical education teacher said he supervised the shallow end while Quigley and an ROTC instructor, Sgt. Nick Church, supervised the other side.

All five high schools in the Long Beach Unified School District have pools. This was believed to be the first drowning in the district, and as word spread Wednesday, faculty and students at Jordan High were “just devastated,” Cooke said. “There have been students crying. Teachers are very upset. The whole school is in shock.”

An autopsy will be performed to determine the cause of death, district spokesman Dick Van Der Laan said.

Loretta Hardison said her son had no physical problems. She described him as “a big, healthy boy.”

School officials said the youngster was an above-average student, who was friendly and well-liked by his peers.

Hardison’s parents disputed the official version of the drowning, although they were unsure what happened. Several students told them that another boy pushed Hardison in, while other students said he was forced to jump in by one of the instructors, the parents said. At least four of the students told the family that the lifeguard was not there, the parents said.

While confused by the various rumors, family members who gathered late Wednesday at the family’s home in the Carmelitos Housing Project echoed the sentiments of Jacquelyn Payne, an aunt: “Regardless of the story, there should have been a teacher there.”

Cooke said: “The lifeguard is in the pool area at all times where there are people in the pool. He doesn’t teach. He’s a lifeguard.

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“I don’t know why (the lifeguard) didn’t see him (earlier),” the principal said. “There were 25 kids in the pool. I don’t know. Why didn’t the kids see him?

“I did talk with some of the students. They were swimming, having fun. They didn’t realize what was going on. I’m sure there are going to be many rumors surfacing.”

School officials plan to interview students today, Cooke said.


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