A Glendale family spearheaded a protest outside the offices of the YMCA of the Foothills this week to demand information about their son’s drowning death at the organization’s La Crescenta facility.
Colin Jacobs, a 19-year-old USC student, died on July 1 while on duty as a summer camp counselor at the YMCA branch in La Crescenta. A longtime volunteer for the organization, he was less than two weeks away from his 20th birthday.
Now, two months later, his family and friends say the YMCA of the Foothills has yet to explain the circumstances surrounding Jacobs’ drowning, or provide any promise to change its policies, saying that better practices might have avoided the tragedy.
On Monday, about 50 people gathered with signs in front of the organization’s La Cañada Flintridge location, which was chosen because it hosts the YCMA’s administrative offices, though it is not the site where Jacobs drowned.
“It could have very easily been prevented,” Phil Jacobs said of the death of his son, adding that Colin Jacobs could have suffered a seizure in the pool. “It was a very, very senseless death to somebody who was so focused on what he wanted to do and helping others. … He was an all-around great kid. He didn’t deserve this fate.”
The tragedy was referenced in a newsletter from YMCA of the Foothills CEO Vince Iuculano that was posted on the organization’s website on July 6. The statement included few details, saying that “out of respect for the family and the ongoing investigative process with the authorities, we can only share a limited update.”
But the Glendale family, which includes Colin’s mother, Mairena, and sister, Amber, said that it did not request that the YMCA withhold information — and that in fact family members have sought more details.
Phil Jacobs explained that the family contracted an attorney to speak with the YCMA’s attorney, hoping to arrange a meeting between the family and the nonprofit organization. But then, he said, the YMCA’s representative stopped responding to emails.
YMCA ISSUES STATEMENT
Iuculano was out of his office this week, but a statement sent on his behalf from the YMCA of the Foothills said that “we respect the family’s desire to peaceably protest and I can tell you that the YMCA of the Foothills continues to mourn the loss of this beloved employee and is heartbroken for his family, his fellow staff, friends and the community who knew him.
“While I appreciate the request and the desire for more information, we are unable to share any details since there is a pending investigation with the various authorities involved. We have no further comment at this time.”
A second statement from the YMCA added, “We are fully supporting the ICW Group” — an insurer — “and Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s investigations into the incident, and all report findings will be shared upon conclusion.”
An OSHA investigation at the Crescenta Valley Family YMCA was opened on July 2 and remains active, according to records from the U.S. Department of Labor.
FAMILY SEEKS FACTS
Phil Jacobs explained that the family has resorted to talking to witnesses who were at the pool on July 1 to begin to sketch out how their son’s death occurred. Jacobs said he believes there were two lifeguards in the pool area, but said that witnesses told him both of them were in the pool around the time of the accident rather than watching the swimmers from the deck. Colin Jacobs was missing for seven to 10 minutes, according to his father, with those around him assuming he had gone to the bathroom.
Then, Phil was told, an 11-year old camper saw Colin face down at the bottom of the pool.
Colin Jacobs was undergoing treatment for seizures, according to his father, though he hadn’t had one since March and had been cleared by a doctor to resume driving and other activities. Phil Jacobs believes the teen may have had a seizure, but said an attentive lifeguard could have rescued him.
He added that he wants the YMCA to address what happened and wants to know whether anyone was supervising the lifeguards to make sure they were doing their jobs — and if there wasn’t supervision, why not.
“We’re not looking for any money. We’re not looking to sue the YMCA,” Jacobs said. “We don’t want another family to go through this.”
Tiago Santos, who worked as a camp counselor with Colin Jacobs, expressed strong feelings about the tragic incident.
“When I found out that the casualty was because he drowned, I was furious and confused because I both love the YMCA but also [felt] angry at them because they let this happen,” he said.
On Tuesday, Santos led chants shouted by a crowd of family and friends of the Jacobs, the protesters clad in bright orange shirts with “Justice for Colin” emblazoned across the fronts.
“Colin was the brightest light in a room,” Santos said. “He made everyone feel unique and special and cared for and that they were important. … The last thing that he said to me was that ‘I’m glad you’re living life to the fullest,’ and I think that embodies who he was so well.
“He was someone who lived life to the fullest and made you want to live life with him.”