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Parents of Girl Who Drowned at Altadena Day Camp to Speak at Town Council

Camp operators plan to reopen for summer session in June

Published on Tuesday, February 18, 2020 | 5:37 am
State Senator Anthony Portantino with Doug Forbes and Elena Matyas, the Pasadena parents of six-year-old Roxie Forbes, who drowned at the Summerkids camp in Altadena last year, shown in Sacramento as Portantino submits legislation which would regulate day camps. Forbes and Matyas are scheduled to address the Altadena Town Council tonight.

The Pasadena parents of a girl who drowned at an Altadena day camp last year will speak before the Altadena Town Council tonight.

Roxie drowned at Summerkids camp in Altadena on June 28. She was a non-swimmer.

According to the town council’s agenda, the Meow Meow Foundation, named after Roxie’s favorite stuffed animal and started by Roxie’s parents Doug Forbes and Elena Matyas, will provide an update and talk about recent legislation.

The 7 p.m. meeting will be held at the Altadena Community Center, 730 E. Altadena Drive, Altadena.

“We are making a special presentation Tuesday night at the Altadena council meeting to tell the story of a little girl who stole hearts, who inspired us to be better humans and who drowned in her summer camp pool, which was wholly preventable,” Forbes told Pasadena Now on Monday. “Altadenans, Pasadenans, Angelinos and Californians need to know more about a colossal gap that places more than a million children in harm’s way at unlicensed, improperly inspected summer camps without background checks, emergency action plans and proper training. Meow Meow Foundation is honored to share its experience navigating the political system which led to SB 955, a comprehensive camp oversight bill and also its mission to bring an end-to-end drowning prevention solution to all California children.”

According to a lawsuit filed by Roxie’s parents, Doug Forbes and Elena Matyas, Roxie entered the camp pool June 28 at about 9:25 a.m., accompanied by a counselor.

Got Used Oil

About ten to fifteen minutes later, another counselor who was working with other campers about thirty to forty-five feet outside the gate of the swimming pool was the first person to finally notice Roxie floating face down in the pool, the suit says.

State documents show the California Dept. of Social Services substantiated two allegations that Summerkids has operated without a required license which the state says “poses an immediate health, safety or personal rights risk to children in care.”

In a January email, Camp Director Cara DiMassa referred to the drowning as a “swimming accident” and said she and the rest of the DiMassa family are “still in grief,” and planned to reopen the camp for regular summer session on June 8.

“There have been numerous inaccuracies about the incident in local media reports,” the email stated. “Please know that we appreciate your support and are looking forward to summer.”

Two weeks ago, state Senator Anthony Portantino introduced legislation that would regulate recreational camps.

Known as SB 955, the Roxie Rules Act, which if passed would correct omissions in state law and bring camps in line with other regulated services such as daycare facilities. The bill will be first heard in a Senate policy committee in March.

The bill must pass both houses of the legislature by the end of August. If signed into law by Governor Newsom it would go into effect on January 1.

California sadly trails behind many other states in regulating recreational camps. Thirty-eight states have some sort of statewide camp regulations while California does not.

In 2008, a 7-year old boy was comatose after being face down in a pool at John Muir High School while he attended Tom Sawyer Camps in Pasadena.

In 2005, Anat and Oded Gottesman were awarded $16 million after their 4-year old son drowned at a Santa Barbara camp on his first day at Cathedral Oaks Athletic Club, which had been operating its kids’ camp without a license.

At that time, six states did not require camps to be licensed at all. Twenty-eight states didn’t require criminal background checks of camp employees. According to the American Camp Association, only 25 percent of camps in the United States are accredited, meaning they meet 15 percent of the 255 health and safety standards set by the association.

Michelle Vega, spokesperson for La County Supervisor Kathryn Barger, said the county is looking into ways to provide oversight to camps.

“Summerkids is considered a daycare operation. As such, they are required to be licensed by the State of California through its Community Care Licensing division,” Vega told Pasadena Now. “They are not licensed or permitted through Los Angeles County, nor does the County currently have a purview to issue a license or permit to any daycare facilities.”

“Los Angeles County, through our county counsel and Department of Public Health, has been considering if and how the county’s oversight of ‘organized camps’ can be strengthened, especially related to pool safety to protect children and youth. However, as the state provides regulations, the county must continue to follow State requirements.

Conversations within the county are still in progress so we do not know what would be included in a motion at this time.”

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