Zhaojie Yiang, a student from China living in the U.S. on a student visa, was 22 years old when he and a friend went to the YMCA at 10 Bell St. near UConn’s Stamford campus last October. Zhaojie slipped under the water at some point and remained in distress unnoticed by others, including two lifeguards on duty at the time.
By the time he was pulled from the water, according to Zhaojie’s attorney, William Bloss of the Bridgeport-based law firm Koskoff Koskoff & Bieder, he was not breathing and was in cardiac arrest. The student immediately was transferred to Stamford Hospital and then to Columbia Presbyterian Hospital but remained unconscious.
“As a result of prolonged lack of oxygen to his brain, Zhaojie suffered severe, permanent, and irreversible brain damage,” Bloss said, noting that Zhaojie was eventually transferred back to China, where he remains in a coma.
The plaintiff in the lawsuit is Ximiao Jiang, a Virginia resident appointed by the Probate Court for the District of Stamford as conservator for Zhaojie. The case was filed in U.S. District Court and has been assigned to Judge Alvin W. Thompson in Hartford.
The lawsuit states that the YMCA not only “failed to properly train its lifeguards” but also “failed to make sure that the lifeguards had no other duties or distractions other than monitoring the patrons using the pool.”
Lack of sightlines was another allegation in the lawsuit: The lifeguards “failed to be positioned properly so that there was unobstructed visual coverage of the pool, particularly in light of glare on the pool from the window at the deep end of the pool, which made observation from only the north end inadequate.”
“This is an especially horrifying case of a young man’s life being shattered and is particularly tragic because it could so easily have been prevented,” Bloss said.
Terri Wellman, interim CEO of the Stamford YMCA, issued a statement that read, “We sympathize with the family on the injury to their son and YMCA member. Based on the facts of this accident, we believe the court will find that our organization and its personnel acted appropriately before, during and after this tragic event. The Stamford Family YMCA has taught thousands of people to swim and enjoy the water safely over the past 150 years. Making sure all children and adults are safe in the pool is a top priority.”