Death brings scrutiny to Wild Waves

A man drowned at Wild Waves Theme Park in Federal Way on Saturday, a spokesperson with South King Fire and Rescue said.
A man drowned at Wild Waves Theme Park in Federal Way on Saturday, a spokesperson with South King Fire and Rescue said. Tacoma

Public health officials from state and county agencies are investigating Wild Waves Theme Park in Federal Way because of the drowning Saturday of a 32-year-old man, the first death at the park in more than a decade.

Water quality, safety equipment and lifeguard operations at the park are being scrutinized after the death of Vijayarengan Srinivasan, officials said.

Srinivasan drowned in a pool at Wild Waves on a hot afternoon in which about 8,500 people packed the water park, according to a Federal Way police report.

The report classified Srinivasan’s death as an accidental drowning.

It said he had moved this month from India to work as a computer programmer in Bellevue and had a wife and a 3-year-old child in India.

A lifeguard who jumped in to fetch a pair of glasses found Srinivasan at the bottom of a 10-foot-deep pool where visibility was obscured by scratched paint and deep waters, the report says.

Several minutes before Srinivasan was found in the pool, a different lifeguard had seen what she thought looked like a body and jumped in to search, but found nothing, and some children’s report of a body to a third lifeguard was dismissed as a prank, the police report says.

A friend of Srinivasan who accompanied him to the water park told police Srinivasan was a poor swimmer and had expressed concerns about the pool’s depth when they stood on a rock together by the pool contemplating whether to dive in.

Public Health — Seattle & King County, which inspects the park’s water quality and equipment regularly and conducts investigations after injuries or deaths there, has no record of a drowning at Wild Waves since 2001, spokeswoman Hilary Karasz wrote in an email.

The agency has reports of four near-drownings since then, the most recent in 2014.

In a statement, Wild Waves’ public relations firm said the park is “greatly saddened by this loss” and “working to fully understand the circumstances” around the drowning. A spokeswoman could not say when the park’s last drowning was. In 1991, an 18-year-old Tacoma woman, Rachel Paulette Evans, died of heart disease after going down a Wild Waves water slide, according to news reports.

State Department of Health spokeswoman Julie Graham said her agency is assisting the King County agency in the investigation.

“They look at the whole gamut of what could have been potential factors,” Graham said.

Karasz wrote that Public Health officials have inspected individual Wild Waves facilities 19 times in 2016 and found five “unsatisfactory” elements — three before the park opened for the season and two this month. On Aug. 19, inspectors found water in the wave pool had a pH level that was too high and that the Riptide water ride had a defective handrail. Both problems were required to be fixed that day, Karasz wrote.

Although the state Department of Labor and Industries oversees inspections of amusement rides, the law requiring the inspections specifically exempts water slides, so that agency’s officials examine only other attractions at the Wild Waves facility, L&I spokesman Matthew Erlich said.

Dan Grimm of Puyallup, the former state representative who was lead sponsor of the 1985 bill that gave the state oversight over amusement rides, said he did not recall how water slides became exempted in the law after a late version of the bill specifically included them.

Neither did another of its sponsors, former Rep. Art Wang of Tacoma. Sen. Jim Hargove, D-Hoquiam, the only one of the bill’s sponsors still serving in the Legislature, did not return a call.

Derrick Nunnally: 253-597-8693, @dcnunnally

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