News 4 Investigates: Parents still seeking change in pool regulations a year after their son drowned

Published: Jul. 21, 2023 at 7:34 PM CDT
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

ST. LOUIS, Mo. (KMOV) - Grabbing bag after bag of stuffed animals, Olga and Travone Mister quickly fill carts outside Mercy Children’s Hospital in St. Louis County. The Misters are on one of several stops, donating toys they hope will comfort young patients.

“We want to make sure that other children feel comfort and joy when they’re sick,” Olga Mister said. “It’s bittersweet.”

Over the course of a month, the Misters say they collected around 1,000 stuffed animals, all inspired by their son TJ.

“TJ loved teddy bears,” Travone Mister said.

“He was always so kind and he would want to share this things,” Olga Mister added.

For the Misters, the timing of this drop-off isn’t a coincidence.

“The one-year angel-versary is what I call it, so one year since he’s become an angel,” Olga Mister explained.

On July 20, 2022, TJ drowned at Kennedy Kids Camp, a summer camp run by St. Louis County. The Misters are still calling for accountability exactly one year after his death.

“He was an extraordinary boy, he was brilliant,” Olga Mister said. “He just lit up the room.”

In the months since his death, News 4 Investigates continues pressing for all documented information about what happened.

Previous reporting by the I-Team exposed how TJ struggled in the water for almost five minutes until he was pulled out. A report on the incident paid for by the county showed the camp had 40 kids and only one lifeguard, despite county policy requiring two lifeguards. The report also found that staff did not use an AED, a potentially lifesaving device, on TJ despite having one.

News 4 learned the initial 911 call was routed to a center in Colorado because the county hadn’t properly set up its internet-based phones.

News 4 Investigates also found emails showing county parks employees knew about staff shortages and questioned if it would be safe to open the pool.

A year after the drowning News 4 obtained another email between parks staff from June 2022, more than a month before TJ died. In the email, a manger told employees that the goal was to operate the Kennedy Recreation Center pool three days a week, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. That didn’t happen, the pool was open on a Wednesday when TJ died.

“If they would have just followed their own protocols TJ would be here right now, that’s where the dropped the ball. They should have never opened the pool that’s their big mistake,” Travone Mister said.

For months News 4 Investigates has been trying to question those in charge. When asked in March what the county is specifically doing to ensure safety at its camps, County Executive Doctor Sam Page stated, “we’re going to do everything in our power to make sure that the kids that are participating in our camps are safe.”

While the county won’t talk about specifics on camera, News 4 Investigates learned about several changes.

The county contracted a private company, Midwest Pool Management, to oversee all pools at a yearly cost of nearly $1 million. County records show Midwest Pool Management is requiring 6 lifeguards at the Kennedy Recreation Center pool, a stark contrast compared to one lifeguard when TJ died.

This county also added mandatory swim tests for kids and is requiring CPR and AED training for all recreation staff.

“I wish they would have done this last summer so our son would still be here,” Olga Mister said.

The Misters want statewide change. This year they went to the Missouri capitol asking lawmakers to pass a law requiring licensing for summer camps. Currently, camps are not regulated by the state meaning there’s no requirement for background checks or staff with CPR training. The bi-partisan bill didn’t pass in the legislative session.

“We don’t give up. We’re going to be back next year,” Olga Mister said.

The Misters are living by TJ’s words, a home video that’s become one of their favorites capturing TJ saying “we never give up.”

“He was innocent he didn’t deserve this,” Olga Mister said.

“I want people to know that god has a good angel on his side now,” Travone Mister added.

The Misters are suing the county in a $40 million civil lawsuit. In the court filings, the county argues it’s employees are protected by what they do on the job because of state immunity laws.

News 4 Investigates reached out to the county for comment, they did not respond.

The Misters say they donated stuffed animals to five children’s hospitals in TJ’s memory; Ranken Jordan Pediatric Bridge Hospital, SSM Health Cardinal Glennon Children’s Hospital, Mercy Children’s Hospital St. Louis, and St. Louis Children’s Hospital.

The toys were collected during drives set up by Olga Mister’s work, Advanced Training and Rehab.

You can find out more about the foundation the Misters set up, TJ’s story here.