Death Among Children: Tragedy at Tommy Lee’s

A 4-year-old boy died last weekend at the Malibu home of rock star Tommy Lee. How any right-thinking parents could entrust their child to a drug-addled celebrity who pled no contest to kicking his ex-wife (actress Pamela Anderson) while she held their newborn baby is beyond me. But that’s a column for another day.

Daniel Veres drowned in a residential swimming pool during a birthday gala for Lee’s eldest son. The circumstances of Daniel’s death are not unique to Hollywood. They are all too typical — and dangerously overshadowed by anti-gun activists who monopolize public attention on rare shooting deaths among children at the expense of more common causes of childhood accidents.

“There’s a big pool party here, and no one was paying attention for a minute,” Lee told police on a tape of his emergency 911 call last Saturday afternoon. According to one report, Daniel’s caretaker left the boy after bringing him to the party so he could attend a rock concert. At least a dozen other adults were in attendance at Lee’s party, including parents, babysitters, and several staff members of a preschool.

When Daniel was discovered floating face down in the shallow end of Lee’s pool, a crowd of people rushed recklessly to resuscitate him. According to Lee’s 911 tape account, Daniel vomited water after he was retrieved from the pool. Asked by a police operator if the boy’s chest was rising and falling, Lee responded: “I don’t know. Everyone is pressing in on him.”

Once again showing what a stellar role model for children he is, Lee launched into a profanity-laced panic when the operator warned him to stop people from pressing on the boy’s chest all at once: “I know, there’s a bunch of (expletive) people all doing their thing, so I don’t know what the (expletive) to do.”

If just one clear-headed adult at the party had known how to administer CPR properly, Daniel might be alive today.

This needless tragedy at Tommy Lee’s serves as a chilling reminder that the gravest risks to children are often the least sensational and most mundane. While school shootings and accidental gun deaths involving toddlers garner front-page headlines and nightly news coverage and Million Mom outrage, child drowning deaths go largely unremarked — unless they happen to occur at a celebrity home. If the gun-control crowd spent just a fraction of its resources on public awareness campaigns about the risks of childhood drowning and the importance of learning CPR, they could truly make a life-saving difference for America’s youth.

Drownings are the second-leading cause of unintentional, injury-related death among children 14 and younger, with more than 1,000 deaths a year. That’s 10 times the annual number of accidental shooting deaths for children 14 and under. (The leading cause of accidental deaths among this age group is motor vehicle crashes.) More than half of drownings occur in a pool at the child’s own home, and one-third occur at homes of friends.

About 50 children in the U.S. drown every year in 5-gallon buckets — yes, buckets — many of which were less than half full, according to federal statistics. The government also notes that 77 percent of young drowning victims were missing for just five minutes or less. Most were in the presence of one or both parents.

In the wake of Daniel Veres’ death, some California officials are calling for new safety mandates. Many cities require fencing around new pools. In Orange County, Calif., where eight backyard pool drownings have already occurred this year, some local politicians want to require costly pool motion sensors that emit an alarm. Passing such laws “for the children” may assuage some guilt, but all the regulations and technology and wealth in the world won’t change a hard-learned truth that even Tommy Lee must now understand:

When it comes to protecting children, there is no good substitute for parental vigilance.