Johnathon Lamonte Sails was filling in as a long-term substitute swim instructor at East Detroit High School when he reportedly ignored students’ pleas to help a drowning student.
Students first approached Sails around 1 pm on November 8 and asked him to help KeAir Swift, a 14-year-old who could not swim and was drowning in the deep end of the pool.
According to Macomb County Prosecutor Eric Smith, Sails’ response was to insist that the drowning boy was “just messing around.” Sails was apparently sitting in the bleachers at the time, rather than directly by the pool, as he should have been.
When the students again returned with the same plea, Sails, 24, finally got up to respond. After trying to get Swift out of the water with some equipment and the janitor’s help, Sails left the pool area to go change into his bathing suit.
He then finally entered the pool, but was still unsuccessful in pulling the drowning boy out of the water.
Eventually, another school official heard the commotion, entered the pool area, and dove into the water (still wearing his dress suit) and managed to pull the student to the side of the pool.
Sadly, his actions came too late: three days later, KeAir was taken off life support and pronounced dead.
“If (Sails) had immediately taken action, something might have been different,” Smith said. He noted that the swim class was a beginner level-class, in which the students didn't know how to swim, and stated that "this needless tragedy could have easily been avoided.”
In addition to the obvious and yet inexplicable negligence Sails demonstrated at the pool that day, he didn’t even have the proper lifeguarding credentials to be hired as a swim instructor: Sails is not a certified lifeguard.
If convicted of involuntary manslaughter, Sails could face up to 15 years in jail and/or $7,500 in fines.
Smith has said that several decisions made leading up to KeAir’s death “appear to have been negligent.” The school, for example, never checked the validity of Sails’ lifeguard certification.
“We tried to put together a case against East Detroit schools but we could not,” Smith said. “We believe the school district was negligent but we just couldn’t charge them.”
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