Two hours northeast of Sioux City on the banks of East Lake Okoboji sits Bridges Bay, which calls itself a "laid-back resort" and features an indoor and outdoor waterpark with amenities for kids and adults.
It's also here where a Spirit Lake couple experienced a parent's worst nightmare.
"It seems really kid-friendly when you look at it." Lauren and William Bramhall rented a party room at the indoor waterpark for Wednesday, June 16th to celebrate a few birthdays, including their two-year-old twin boys Russell and Miles.
"I know for myself like walking and I was like okay, this will be a good place to go after we're done swimming," Lauren said about the waterpark. "It felt like a safe area to do that, and obviously it wasn't."
After spending a few hours in the pool, the group moved to the party room. But Miles had disappeared as they were handing out food, quickly sneaking out the closed door. The door to the party room didn't lock.
"I started to look around the room and I see Russell, because I saw he had his little blankie that he always carries," Will said, "but I didn't see Miles."
Will ran out the door and to the pool with some other adults, frantically searching for Miles.
"At that point, was when I had a lifeguard, a female lifeguard... she was across the way, but she saw me and said, 'are you looking for your son?' He's in the lifeguard room," Will said. "At that point, Miles was sitting with a young man. A male lifeguard. He had like two towels wrapped around him, one over like his upper head and a lower-middle back, and then the other one was around his waist.
"Because all I could see were his legs and his arms and they were blue... blue, purple," Will recalled. "So I didn't know if he received CPR, if he wasn't breathing, or anything."
Thankfully, Miles was breathing and didn't need CPR. "It seems as though he didn't breathe in any water, (because) he had swallowed," Will said after checking his son. "The swallow reflex kicked in and he swallowed, over and over again and water entered his mouth. So his lung sounds were clear."
Bramhall is a certified EMT, and he and the paramedics who arrived on scene gave Miles a thorough evaluation and then, as both Will and Lauren have medical training, they were able to take Miles home.
"But for some reason I just said, Well, I've got my feet up on the hole where she was, I'm just going to go ahead and float around." Scott Deruyter was at Bridges Bay with his young kids and a moment's thought to float down the lazy river in a tube instead of exiting the pool with his daughter, likely saved Miles's life.
"I kind of noticed like somebody was kind of like doing a back float or somebody was kind of like, I saw just like little hands coming out of water and kind of like, tips of feet, but the hands are kind of going up and then they're going down, they're kind of going up, but I just thought that was kind of funny," Derutyer recalled. "And as I got there, the hands were dipping under the water and there was no moving. So I got past the ladder, and I thought, that doesn't look right and so I jumped off the tube.
"And I went over and... sorry it's kind of emotional... So when I picked him up. He was not moving. And so I carried him over to the side... and rolled up to the side and pat him on his back," he said after pulling the 2-year-old out of the water. "And I heard, kind of a small gurgle so I knew there was not complete air restriction, I mean there was kind of a gurgle but not really any kind of noise. So, as I had patted his back, water starting to come from his nose and mouth, but his eyes were just really wide and like, distant."
Several days after the drowning incident, Bridges Bay's waterparks were closed which the resort states is because of staffing, but a Facebook post caught Lauren's attention.
"(The Emergency Closure Order) stated that there had to be 16 trained lifeguards on duty that day, and in the citation, it states that because the one certified lifeguard was in there that day... in the office... there were zero certified lifeguards that day," Lauren stated.
The parent of one of the lifeguards on duty on June 16th took to social media, calling out Bridges Bay for not offering her son and several other staff members the proper lifeguard training for the job. She also called the state to report the drowning days after it happened, something the facility is required by law to report within 24 hours.
The parent of one of the lifeguards on duty on June 16th took to social media, calling out Bridges Bay for not offering her son and several other staff members the proper lifeguard training for the job. She also called the state to report the drowning days after it happened, something the facility is required by law to report within 24 hours. (Siouxland News)
According to the incident report filed by the Iowa Department of Public Health, Bridges Bay Resort was shut down via Emergency Closure Order for failing to meet four Iowa codes for operation. One of the most alarming citations is failing to staff the aquatics facility with the minimum number of certified lifeguards as determined for the size of the aquatics center.
On June 16th, Bridges Bay had one certified lifeguard on the property but they were not in the pool. The four other lifeguards did not have active certifications.
According to the emergency closure notice, Bridges Bay is legally required to have a minimum of 16 certified lifeguards on duty if both the indoor and outdoor facilities are open, 4 in the indoor facility and 12 outside. The water park was closed to "avoid the immediate danger to the public" and will remain so until the state determines it is safe for them to reopen.
"One of the main reasons we decided to speak out about this was that we didn't know none of them were certified," Lauren said. "There was one certified and she was not working the floor, she was in the office that day. Which is terrifying as a parent."
Once Miles fell in the pool, Will, Lauren, Scott and several others have determined that Miles likely passed by a lifeguard without being noticed in the water.
"All signs point to that my son was underwater drowning all the way in front of an untrained lifeguard from the complete one side of the building, all the way to the other end perfect view of them because they face the entire building," said Will.
"Will and I felt mainly at fault for this, but knowing that, you know, he could have been pulled out sooner," Lauren said, "and that so many families bring their children to Bridges Bay a year, and not knowing that it's not safe. That's why we decided to speak out about it."
Siouxland News: "What do you want to see come from this?"
"Change," Lauren said quickly. "I mean, don't let them work the floor until they are certified. I mean, you wouldn't put a nurse on the floor of a hospital without any type of certification at all. You put people's lives in their hands It's the same thing with this, they need to be certified before they're even considered to be put on the floor. Why Bridges Bay thought that was acceptable is beyond me."
Will responded, "I feel really disgruntled towards them, because of how they've been treating us."
"And the fact that they deliberately tried to hide that it was a drowning that shut them down and that they didn't report it," Lauren said. "That's very upsetting to me."
Bridges Bay has yet to publicly acknowledge the drowning incident, stating on their official Facebook page that because of recent upgrades to the waterpark, it "changed the scale for staffing which we are addressing." The resort has also disabled all comments on their Facebook page.
Siouxland News spoke with the lifeguard who assisted Miles once Scott pulled him from the pool. He says he and several other colleagues have quit Bridges Bay because of a lack of training and how this has been handled. While he and his mom, who alerted the state about the drowning, didn't speak to us on camera, they told me that they hope to see a positive change come from this incident.
For Will and Lauren, they don't blame the untrained guards for what happened. "You can't blame someone for not knowing how to do something," Will said.
Lauren agreed, saying, "he did the best he could in the situation."
"He was very comforting," Will said, who spoke to the guard as he was holding his son in the lifeguard office. "And for a person who's untrained, being comforting is all you can do in a circumstance like that."
"We're angry at Bridges Bay itself for this because it could have been prevented," Lauren said.
One week later, Miles is doing just fine, maybe needing a few extra hugs from mom. For Will, Lauren, Scott, and others who are calling out Bridges Bay for how this drowning was handled, their unified message is hope that the popular resort will recognize its mistakes.
"We trust them to have a safe environment for our families," Lauren said. "It's posted they have lifeguards there. So, I mean my message to them would be, like, make sure your staff is trained before you put them on the floor."
In their Spirit Lake home, Scott met Miles as the energetic, albeit sleepy 2-year-old he is and three strangers reunited over a moment that could have changed so many lives forever.
"We're just so grateful for him. I mean, had it not been for him our son probably wouldn't be with us today, which is the scariest part," Lauren said as she looked at Scott, a new friendship destined to carry on.
According to the emergency closure report, Bridges Bay was allowed to open for the summer beginning June 10th with a requirement that they would have 12 certified lifeguards outside on duty when open. This incident occurred on June 16th, not even a week later.
Siouxland News spoke with Bridges Bay's General Manager who did not want to speak on camera but did release a statement stating they are working with the state. Their full statement is as follows:
"We are working with the State of Iowa and the Bridges Bay Master Homeowner Association to ensure we meet the requirements to reopen the facility within guidelines. Unfortunately, the labor market situation that has impacted many industries also has impacted ours and made obtaining the amount of staff required more difficult. If anyone is interested in applying for a job, please contact us."
To read the full incident report and Emergency Closure Order from the Iowa Department of Public Health, click here.
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