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Drowning Raises Concerns About Emergency Response

April 26, 2005 – The death of John Alexander, whose car veered off Veteran's Drive and plunged into the St. Thomas Harbor on April 11, has raised some concerns for one senator.
Senate President Lorraine L. Berry expressed her concerns Monday about emergency response agencies' ability to address water incidents. She raised the issue in a letter sent to Police Commissioner Elton Lewis, Planning and Natural Resources Commissioner Dean Plaskett, V.I. Port Authority Executive Director Darlan Brin, V.I. Fire Service Director Merwin Potter and Emergency Medical Services Director Selwyn Mahon.
Berry felt that rescue agencies took too long to remove Alexander from the water.
"My constituents have advised me that on the day of Mr. Alexander’s accident, countless police, fire and other emergency personnel stood on the apron of the waterfront while Mr. Alexander remained submerged for approximately 45 minutes before a small number of police officers, who are certified divers, arrived on the scene along with personnel from a local dive shop," Berry wrote.
Police could not confirm Tuesday how long it took to remove Alexander from the water or what caused his death. But Medical Examiner Francisco Landron said the 48-year-old man drowned and did not die from a heart attack, as previously thought.
Landron said the autopsy revealed that Alexander had chest pains due to heart disease that "precipitated his losing control and falling into the water," but his death was not due to the heart condition.
"Had he not fallen in the water, he would not have died," Landron said. "He died of drowning."
Berry said Tuesday she had not yet received a response from any of the agency heads, but she did not expect a speedy response during the Carnival season. Acting Police Commissioner James McCall said he was not aware of Berry's letter, and Lewis, who is currently off-island, had received no news of the letter, either.
In briefly addressing the concerns raised by Berry, McCall said the V.I. Police Department was equipped with rescue boats and works in conjunction with the U.S. Coast Guard and other rescue agencies when water accidents occur. He said the department also has a dive team made up of certified divers. McCall, who is also a certified diver, could not say how many other police officers were certified, however.
"I am very concerned about whether our Police Department is adequately prepared for water accidents," Berry said. "Enough of them are not trained."

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