Ex-teacher charged in Detroit teen's drowning death

Jennifer Chambers
The Detroit News

A former Mumford High School swim teacher has been charged in the drowning death of his 15-year-old learning disabled student.

Wayne County prosecutors announced Tuesday that Kareem Sigler, 47, is charged with involuntary manslaughter, a felony with a 15-year maximum penalty, in the Feb. 24 death of student Da’Sean Blanding.

Da'Sean Lamar Blanding

Blanding was a swimming student in Sigler's 11:20 a.m. class at Mumford.

Prosecutors allege sometime after the class started, Sigler was in another room when a student notified him that Blanding was at the bottom of the pool. Sigler dove into the water and, with the help of other students, pulled Blanding to the surface.

Sigler told students to call 911 while he rendered medical assistance. At 12:15 p.m., medics arrived and transported the victim to a hospital, where he was pronounced deceased.

Prosecutor Kym Worthy alleges Sigler was grossly negligent by failing to supervise Blanding, which resulted in his death.

"We are alleging that the evidence in this case shows that the death of Mr. Blanding could have been prevented," Worthy said in a statement. "While swimming pools are certainly desirable, they can also be death traps without proper, necessary, and needed supervision and preparedness.”

Sigler was arraigned in 36th District Court on Wednesday and given a $30,000 bond / 10% surety and won't be allowed to use drugs, alcohol, marijuana or illegal substances. Sigler also cannot have firearms or unsupervised contact with minor children.

A probable cause conference is scheduled for May 27 at 8:30 a.m. before Judge Kenneth King. A preliminary exam will follow on June 3 at 1:30 p.m.

Blanding's official cause of death is drowning, but county medical officials were unable to determine if it was accidental or the result of foul play.

Christina Blanding of Detroit is overcome with emotion while talking about the drowning death of her son.

An autopsy report issued last month by the Wayne County Medical Examiner's Office found Blanding had injuries to his face and head that match the grate the runs along the outside of the pool.

Leigh Hlavaty, deputy chief medical examiner for Wayne County, conducted the autopsy on Feb. 25 and wrote in the report that Blanding had abrasions on his forehead and brow and that bruising on the underside of his scalp indicated he was alive when his head struck the pool grate.

"This injury is more consistent with the decedent tripping before going into the water or being pushed or 'dropped' into the water," Hlavaty wrote. The injuries on his face did not cause his death, the report said.

Hlavaty also found injuries on the teen's body, "which could represent him being pushed into the water" or could represent his back striking the edge of the pool as he was pulled out.

The autopsy report says the investigation into Blanding's death revealed there were six students at the pool the day the teen died and some admitted to horseplay, including dunking each other in the pool, but they say Blanding, who was wearing short sleeves and shorts that day, did not participate.

Blanding's mother alleges her 15-year-old, learning-disabled son was bullied and beaten before he was forced into the water and while his teacher left the class unsupervised.

Christina Blanding has said her son was bleeding from the nose and mouth when he was pulled from the pool and had marks on his neck. She said she saw the injuries when she viewed her son's body at the hospital.

On Tuesday, Blanding said she wanted to thank the Wayne County Prosecutor's Office for seeking justice for her son and charging Sigler.

"I think that’s awesome because he is responsible," Blanding said. "If he was in there, this would have never happened."

Blanding said she would still like to know what students may have been involved in the incident that ended in her son's death.

"I would like other people to speak up about who did this to my child. Parents are silencing the other teens in the class. They need to stop the 'not-snitching' rule," she said.

Late Monday night, Nikolai Vitti, the superintendent of Detroit schools, issues a statement on the matter:

"On March 17, 2020, the DPSCD Board of Education terminated Mr. Sigler, the swim teacher, based on the Superintendent’s recommendation. This entire situation has been painful to everyone involved. That pain only continues regarding the arrest of Mr. Sigler. Based on our own investigation regarding the incident, we can understand why he was arrested. Our investigation led to his termination."

Blanding's attorney Johnny Hawkins said investigators in the case have told him they have had a hard time interviewing other students in class that day to understand how Da'Sean ended up in the pool.

"There are kids who know but we can't get to them. The police have had a hard time getting through the parents. And that is what we need to know," Hawkins said.