STAR-BULLETIN / 2004
Charlotte "Sharkey" Schaefers drowned in this drainage pond filled with rainwater at the Pearl City Peninsula naval housing complex in February 2004. Charlotte's mother, Allison Schaefers, has authored a bill to improve safety in these types of existing catchment systems and limit construction of new ones.
Out of tragedy comes legislation
Charlotte’s Law bill targets drainage ponds
The mother of a young girl who drowned in a Pearl City drainage pond nearly four years ago is pushing for a state law to limit construction of the water-catchment systems and make existing ones safer.
The measure, Senate Bill 2884, would let developers dig drainage ponds only as a last resort, require ponds to have a 4-foot-high fence and a locked gate as well as warning signs, alarms, a rescue buoy and a pole.
"The loss of a child is the most horrendous thing to try to live through for a family," said the bill's author, Allison Schaefers, whose 5-year-old daughter, Charlotte, died in February 2004 in an unguarded, clogged pond filled with rainwater at the Pearl City Peninsula naval housing complex.
Charlotte Schaefers, nicknamed "Sharkey" for her swimming skills, had jumped into the murky water to save a boy who fell in. Her friend was pulled out, but Schaefers stayed under for about 10 minutes, until a row of adults combing the pond found her unresponsive.
A permanent 6-foot vinyl fence and signs were put up at the pond after Schaefers drowned.
Allison Schaefers, a Star-Bulletin business reporter, said she researched drainage ponds and found they often operate with few safeguards or little monitoring across the country. She will hold a news conference today at 12:45 p.m. at the state Capitol rotunda to publicize the bill, which calls for annual state inspections of all such ponds in Hawaii.
"It certainly merits debate on this issue," said state Sen. Clayton Hee, chairman of the Water and Land Committee, which will hear the bill Feb. 11. "Any time a youngster loses her life, as in this case, looking at solutions is always prudent."
Charlotte "Sharkey" Schaefers:
The 5-year-old girl died in 2004 trying to save a child
About 30 Hawaii residents drown each year in the ocean, lakes, dams and reservoirs, ponds, floodwaters and swimming pools, according to the bill, which was introduced by Sen. Will Espero, chairman of the Public Safety Committee.
Hee said the proposal could be challenged by developers worried about costs to comply with its regulations. It is also unclear, he noted, how the guidelines would apply to golf courses designed to drain water.
Schaefers said developers could pass on any expenses to customers, who would benefit from safer alternatives to ponds.
"Citizens pay when the state puts in crosswalks and safety lights, and many of us voluntarily pay for car alarms and house alarms," she said. "When developers start balancing their books by taking safety out of the equation, someone, like my daughter, is going to pay the ultimate price."
As of Tuesday, Hee said he had received at least 25 e-mails supporting the proposal. It would be named Charlotte "Sharkey" Schaefers' Law in memory of Charlotte Schaefers. She would have turned 9 on Jan. 18, said Allison Schaefers, who has a 12-year-old son, Joshua.
In 2005, Schaefers won a $2 million settlement in a wrongful-death lawsuit against the federal government and other defendants. The family set up a $50,000 scholarship at Our Lady of Good Counsel school, which Charlotte Schaefers attended.