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Thursday, January 24, 2013
Soccer player who drowned had epilepsy

Associated Press

DETROIT -- A Northern Michigan University women's soccer player who drowned during a team workout in a campus pool had epilepsy and may have had a seizure as recently as last summer, according to newly released investigative reports that detail the frantic attempt to revive her.

The medical examiner's office ruled Arianna "Anna" Alioto's death an accidental drowning, and didn't mention her epilepsy or suggest that any health condition may have contributed to her drowning.

The newly released reports, which The Associated Press obtained through Freedom of Information act requests, don't contradict the medical examiner's findings, but they do show that the 18-year-old freshman midfielder needed medication to keep epileptic seizures at bay.

Among the material obtained were police reports, witness statements, school administrator emails and a copy of the 911 call made after Alioto was spotted floating face-down in the pool after practice ended and the area was closed.

Alioto's death shocked many in the 9,400-student campus community, particularly because she was an athlete whose drowning went unnoticed by her teammates, coach and the lifeguard on duty at the campus pool that evening.

According to the newly released reports, Wildcats women's soccer coach Matt Granstrand oversaw the aquatic conditioning session that afternoon inside the Marquette school's Physical Education Instruction Facility. During a player-pull exercise, Alioto teamed with Cassandra "KC" McCary and Taylor Smith, both of whom noticed how tired she looked. When the drill was over, Granstrand ordered the players into a deeper pool where they were to spend 10 to 15 minutes completing their workout.

In her statement, Smith said she "jumped out first" and put some equipment away and was "pretty sure everyone else had gotten out of the pool at that point."

"I turned and looked at (Alioto), we made eye contact," Smith wrote. "She was standing in the shallow end by the diving board. She looked tired (everyone did). Her face was just blank. She looked fine just like she was tired and was taking her time. I didn't think anything of it."

By 5 p.m., Granstrand ended practice and sent everyone to the locker room.

None of the players interviewed by police remembered seeing Alioto in the deeper pool or in the locker room.

Meanwhile, lifeguard Michele Kolin, believing everyone had left, told campus police she completed her pool-closing duties, switched off the radio and locked the men's locker room.

"Kolin advised she then scanned/checked the pool to make sure everyone was out of the water. When asked if she walked around the pool to visually check the pool perimeter, she stated, 'no,' " the police report said.

About 30 minutes later, Kelly Aldrich, a student who was working out in a nearby room, noticed someone submerged face-down in the pool, not moving. Aldrich hurried to the facility's front desk, where she told recreation manager Katie Theut and student employee Ashley DiLeonardi.

The trio rushed to the pool, where Theut jumped in and instructed Aldrich to grab a backboard and for DiLeonardi to call 911. She also asked them to get Connor Greer, a student employee with lifeguard training.

DiLeonardi, in a breathless but deliberate voice, told the 911 dispatcher what happened, requested an ambulance and said she had to help remove Alioto from the pool. The dispatcher insisted that someone stay on the line, so DiLeonardi set the phone down without ending the call.

What followed was a harrowing seven minutes in which Theut and the three others joined EMTs in an unsuccessful effort to save Alioto.

"Can you hear me? Can you hear me?" Theut can be heard asking Alioto, who vomited after being removed from the water. Aldrich and Greer told police they also noticed white foam coming from Alioto's mouth.

"Come on, sweetheart, wake up! Come on, come on, come on, come on! Wake up, sweetheart!" pleaded Theut. "Come on, sweetie, you can do this! Come on, stay with me, OK?! Stay with me!"

Alioto was pronounced dead at a hospital at around 6:15 p.m., and the Marquette County medical examiner's office listed her cause of death as accidental drowning.

Several people interviewed by police described Alioto as a competent swimmer, if not a strong one. It's unclear why no one noticed she went missing during practice or was in trouble.

Several teammates told police that Alioto had epilepsy, and some of them -- including Granstrand -- said they were unaware of her medical condition. Christine Greer, the school's dean of students, told police that Alioto's mother had told her that her daughter could only go a day-and-a-half without taking her medication before becoming susceptible to a potential seizure. Roommate Lola Weiss told police that Alioto took epilepsy medication and had seen her friend have a seizure last summer.

Nearly two months later, Northern Michigan continues "to deal with the shock of her death," school president and 1972 NMU grad David Haynes said last week in a statement.

"While the investigation is completed as far as the police report goes, I don't know yet what kind of changes might come out of our ongoing discussions about the drowning. What I do know ... is that Arianna Alioto was a wonderful young lady, and her loss is felt deeply."