The family of Jonathan Proce, 21-year-old victim of cardiac arrest while underwater at Lyons Pool in Tompkinsville, N.Y., has reached a court settlement with the city for $600,000.
In July of 2011, Proce, then in training for the U.S. Air Force pararescue unit and Bohdan Vitenko, training to be a Navy SEAL, were both pulled out of the water by companions.
The men would often visit Lyons Pool as a part of their training to complete underwater endurance exercises wherein they would submerge for long periods, surfacing to do calisthenics on the side of the pool.
On the day of the incident, Proce and Vitenko were doing 30-meter underwater sprints, then went to the far end of the pool for breath-control exercises in a depth of three and a half feet.
After Proce and Vitenko were pulled from the water, lifeguards responded and gave CPR until EMS arrived approximately five minutes later. Though the pool was equipped with and AED, it could not be found in that time.
Proce and Vitenko were taken to Richmond University Medical Center, where Vitenko was pronounced dead at 9:45 a.m. and Proce died four days later in intensive care.
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An autopsy attributed Proce’s death to lack of oxygen to the brain occurring during a near-drowning, and classified it as accidental.
Proce’s family contended that his death was the result of a shallow-water blackout, which can occur when a victim hyperventilates before submerging, causing the brain to misinterpret the sensation of drowning. A blackout is rarely announced by any visual signs of distress.
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According to a report released by the city and compiled by the health department's office of public health engineering, the pool was not adequately staffed, violating the Health Code and the parks department’s safety protocols.
The Health Department reported that, at the time of the incident, the parks department did not have documented protocols regarding prolonged breath-holding exercises. The city banned underwater breath control exercises in September of 2013.
Proce’s family sued the city and the parks department in the State Supreme Court on the grounds that the city failed to adhere to its own safety and staffing protocols.
Benjamin Proce, brother to the deceased, told SILive.com that the family had petitioned the city to amend the Health Code. In the aftermath of the suit, the city instituted the underwater breath-control ban and posted the dangers of hyperventilation and underwater endurance training.
N.Y. judge Thomas P. Aliotta said, “the family has made constructive use of their sorrow in this case and made steps to try to prevent this sort of thing from ever happening again to any other family, and that is a very, very special accomplishment.”