Eastpointe — When KeAir Swift got into trouble during a swimming class at East Detroit High School, his classmates alerted the pool monitor that he was in distress.
Authorities say Johnathan Lamonte Sails, assigned to watch the remedial class, brushed off the students’ alarm Nov. 8, saying KeAir was goofing around.
The law says a swimming monitor must be a state-certified lifeguard, wearing proper pool attire and in the immediate pool area. But the Macomb County prosecutor said Tuesday Sails, 25, wasn’t certified, wasn’t in the right clothes and was sitting in bleachers.
As a result, he will be charged with involuntary manslaughter in the ninth-grader’s death, and could face up to 15 years in prison and a $7,500 fine. Eastpointe Police said he had not been arrested by Tuesday night but was due at 38th District Court this morning for arraignment.
“This was not the swimming team,” said Macomb County Prosecutor Eric Smith. “This was a classroom of remedial swimmers. (Sails) was not in the immediate vicinity of them and he was not paying attention.
“Mr. Sails could have shown ordinary care and prevented this entire tragedy. Even someone that is not certified … could have seen what was going on and stopped it before it got to the level that it did.”
Tuesday afternoon, the East Detroit Public Schools District issued a statement, describing Sails as an employee of an outside contractor that provides substitute teachers to school districts.
“The East Detroit Public Schools continues to be deeply saddened by the death of one of our students,” said Superintendent Joanne Lelekatch.
“When tragedies such as this happen, our focus remains on the student, his peers and the family. In his short time with the district, the student involved earned the respect and admiration of his peers and faculty. He will be missed in our community.”
People interested in subbing for the district are referred on its website to a company called Professional Educational Services Group, which describes itself as “one of the largest educational staffing companies in the world,” and says it fills more than 1 million absences annually in Michigan. The website lists East Detroit among its client districts.
After brushing off the initial alarm, Sails did make it to the pool area to look for himself, authorities said. He ran into the locker room to change clothes, then came back to the pool and jumped in but was unable to get Swift out of the water.
The school’s vice principal, dressed in a suit, jumped into the water to help rescue the boy. Smith said he did not know exactly how long Swift was in the water between the first signs of distress and being pulled from the pool.
The ninth-grader was resuscitated by emergency responders, taken to Detroit’s St. John Hospital and placed on life support. He died several days later.
Smith said the school is likely to face a lawsuit as a result of the incident.
“One of the reasons this case took so long is that we did an awful lot of investigating into determining if we could charge the school district as well,” Smith said.
“They showed a certain amount of negligence ... but we could not show gross negligence.”
Lelekatch’s statement provided few other details and did not address the school district’s role in the tragedy.
“It would be inappropriate for us to speculate about the charges, and we trust that the justice system will appropriately address the matter,” she said.
Eastpointe Police Detective Lt. Neil Childs said authorities were attempting to contact Sails through his attorney to turn himself into police.
Swift’s mother could not immediately be reached for comment.
Lelekatch sent a letter to parents that read in part:
“When we lose one of our own, it is indeed a loss that we all feel. KeAir was new to the district, but in his time here he had gained the respect and friendship of both students and staff. To the students and staff who responded to KeAir’s distress, we are truly grateful for your heroic actions.”
Associated Press contributed.