CHESTERFIELD COUNTY, Va. — It’s been nearly a decade since Ron Williams lost who he called his heart and soul.
“I changed my life because of [Donnell]. I tried to do better on this earth because of him,” Williams said.
But, June 17, 2009 would change the young father’s life when his son, 2-year-old Donnell Williams, was found unresponsive in a pool.
The tragedy happened at a relative’s home off Hopkins Road in Chesterfield County.
It was the Wednesday before Father’s Day when Williams would find out how his only son left the sight of the relative in charge of keeping an eye on the toddler.
“He snuck past her and came out the front door. He then went around the side of the house where there are some steps to go to the backyard,” Williams recalled.
The father was told the backyard gate had a broken lock. That lock intended to prevent Donnell from entering the above ground pool surrounded by a wooden deck.
The toddler with an infectious smile fell in the water. It was 30 minutes before a family member discovered Donnell submerged in the pool.
“Sometimes you feel like you never got to say goodbye, but you never expected to say goodbye at a point like that,” Williams recalled.
An investigator determined the drowning was an accident.
Williams believed his son’s premature death could’ve been prevented.
Chesterfield County Assistant Building Official Ron Clements explained the most dangerous aspect of a pool is children gaining access to the water unattended.
“The code requires pool have barriers around them. A minimum of 48-inch high fence or barrier has to be around a swimming pool,” Clements said.
A house can also be considered as part of that barrier, but building officials recommend working alarms on windows and doors.
County code also required gates to have a self-latching lock and the ability to close on its own.
Often, homeowners are unaware that temporary, quick set-up pools available for purchase at big box stores require permits like in-ground pools.
“A permit is required for a swimming pool whenever it exceeds 100 square feet in surface area, if it exceeds 5,000 gallons or if it’s more than two feet deep of water. If you cross any one of those thresholds then you need a permit for it,” Clements explained.
With an above ground pool, the sides of the pool can also count as a barrier. But, in those cases, the ladder access to the pool should be able to latch up when not in use.
Donnell’s father said his son had high energy, loved to explore and climb. The toddler's face now rests as a tattoo on Williams' right arm.
“Daddy’s lil man” was inscribed on Donnell’s headstone in the Maury Cemetery. The toddler would’ve turned 11 this past April.
Williams hopes by sharing Donnell’s tragedy that parents will keep a watchful eye over their children and an up-to-code pool.
“I felt like this was something I had to do to give awareness to other parents. I don’t want this to happened to anybody else,” Williams said.