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‘They acted on instinct’: County official praises lifeguards who pulled body from Hilo public pool

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Tuesday morning at Charles “Sparky” Kawamoto Stadium started as any other day. Four lifeguards arrived at 6:30 a.m., beginning their routine of walking around the county facility in Hilo to check for vandalism, theft and break-ins because the area has a history of this kind of crime.

Around 8:30 a.m., a body was discovered at the bottom of the outdoor pool while lifeguards were inspecting the pool water. Three of the lifeguards jumped in and brought the victim, a man in his 20s, to the surface.

“They acted on instinct,” Hawaiʻi County Parks and Recreation Director Maurice Messina said. “This is something they’ve trained for.”

First responders were called and the lifeguards began CPR.

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“It is believed the victim entered the facility sometime while the pool was closed,” Hawaiʻi police stated in a press release Tuesday afternoon.

Preliminary observations of the body did not indicate any visible trauma, and police do not suspect foul play. The incident has been classified as a coroner’s inquest. An autopsy will be performed later this week to determine the exact cause of death.

The identity of the victim is pending positive identification and notification of family.

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Messina said they’ve had incidences of people breaking into the lifeguard office and stealing supplies, throwing stuff in the pool and cutting fencing. Because of the area’s history, the county recently started paying a security guard to patrol the Hoʻolulu complex area, which includes making rounds around the outside area of the pool. The guard works from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m.

The pool area is fenced in with a 7-foot fence and rock wall, however, Messina said there was no evidence of it being damaged.

Messina said his department is already working on this year’s budget to request installing security cameras at all nine county pools. He said he has been looking for an affordable system.

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“We operate on a shoestring budget as it is and know any extra expenditure is a lot,” Messina said.

The Hilo pool was closed Tuesday due to the death, and it is not known yet when it will reopen.

Tiffany DeMasters
Tiffany DeMasters is a reporter for Big Island Now. Tiffany worked as the cops and courts reporter for West Hawaii Today from 2017 to 2019. She also contributed stories to Ke Ola Magazine and Honolulu Civil Beat.
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