Did a malfunctioning telephone cost a Mishawaka man his life?
Kelvin Mwangi’s family members are outraged after the 22-year-old drowned in a pool at the McKinley Woods Apartment complex Wednesday evening. Even though state law says the phone should have been working for someone to call for help, the president of the company that manages the property said it was not.
According to the St. Joseph County Health Department, the emergency phone worked the last time they inspected the pool in August 2010, but when an inspector contacted the complex to get inside the locked gate for inspection numerous times in 2011, the complex did not return correspondence.
Mwangi’s mother, Perpetual Wambugu, said she feels her son might still be alive had the phone been working.
“I saw people pointing at me, so I knew there was something wrong,” she said, recounting what happened when she returned home from visiting a friend Wednesday evening and saw several police cars and a large gathering of people.
Wambugu said she quickly learned medics rushed Kelvin to the hospital after an afternoon swim with a friend at the complex’s pool turned tragic. The friend noticed her son lying at the bottom of the pool after the two had been swimming.
“He tried to dive down, and then he was unable to [reach Kelvin] so he went up, tried the phone, tried to call 911 with the phone. It was not calling,” Wambugu said.
The phone Wambugu said the friend attempted to use but could not get to work is located inside a red box on the pool deck. Kelvin’s twin brother John said several minutes passed while the friend frantically screamed for help. Eventually, a couple in a nearby apartment heard the screams, called 911 and pulled the young man’s lifeless body from the pool.
“I was so angry. So angry that I don’t know what I can say,” Wambugu said, tears filling her eyes.
According to state law, all public and semi-public pools must have a telephone within 200 feet of the pool enclosure and must be available for emergency use whenever the pool is open for use, with the facility location and emergency telephone numbers for 911 and other first responders posted within view.
“I think [the apartment complex] should be accountable for my brother’s death,” said Kelvin’s identical twin brother, John Mwangi as he fought back tears. “If that phone was at least working, I mean, my brother could be alive today.”
Kelvin and his family immigrated to the United States from Kenya three years ago. He worked two jobs in South Bend, including one at the Logan Center, and went to school at Ivy Tech. According to his brother John, Kelvin wanted to be a doctor.
Holladay Properties manages the McKinley Woods Apartments. Holladay is aware the phone did not work when the boy tried calling for help, said company President John Phair. However, he did not believe it would have made much of a difference in the outcome if it had been working, he added.
He also said neither the company nor the complex have ever denied the health department access to the property or the pool.