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Lifeguards save girl, 10, at water park

The three Spring Hill teens react quickly after one notices a 10-year-old beneath the water.

By JENNIFER FARRELL

© St. Petersburg Times, published June 7, 2001


The three Spring Hill teens react quickly after one notices a 10-year-old beneath the water.

WEEKI WACHEE -- Training paid off Wednesday morning for a trio of Weeki Wachee Springs lifeguards who saved a 10-year-old Girl Scout from drowning after she wandered into water over her head during a trip to the attraction with members of a local troop.

Natasha Williams had stopped breathing and was unconscious without a pulse when 17-year-old Jessica Via of Spring Hill noticed the child in water 14 feet deep near the dock where Via was stationed about 11:45 a.m. Via dived in and pulled Natasha to the surface, blowing two quick rescue breaths into Natasha's lungs as other lifeguards cleared the water.

Jackie Artura, 17, and Dana Lausen, 16, both of Spring Hill, helped Via bring the child back to the beach, where other park employees used oxygen to revive her.

Within seconds, Natasha vomited the water she had swallowed, and by the time EMS workers arrived to airlift her to All Children's Hospital in St. Petersburg, she was crying and asking for her mother, said park operations manager Robyn Anderson.

Anderson added that Natasha, who lives in Spring Hill, told rescue workers that she didn't know how to swim.

Michael Jacobs, general manager of the attraction, said Wednesday's near-drowning was the first at the water park since it opened in the late 1970s.

"I'm very proud of the way the girls handled the situation," he said.

Later, the girls said the rescue was all in a day's work.

"We drill all the time. That's why we were so confident," Artura said. "It's a lot different than the drills, but we knew what to do."

Natasha remained hospitalized Wednesday evening. Officials declined to release her condition, citing instructions from the child's family.

According to a Hernando County sheriff's report, Natasha went to the park with a group of adults and children who belong to a local Girl Scout troop, although the trip was not an official Scout function.

Lisa Whitman, one of the adults in the group, told a deputy that Natasha had last been seen standing on the dock. Several minutes later, Whitman heard whistles and saw lifeguards rushing toward Natasha, who lay motionless under water.

After the rescue, park management gave Via, Artura and Lausen the rest of the day off and bought them a pizza for a job well done.

Shaken by the experience but proud of their performance in an emergency, the three blue-eyed teens said they would share what happened with fellow lifeguards.

"I'm just glad we knew what to do," said Artura, adding later: "I will never ever forget this in my life."

- Jennifer Farrell covers Spring Hill and can be reached at 848-1432.

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