It was March 29, and already a hot day in east Mesa. With their air conditioner broken, Diane Sevey's 3-year-old son, Derek, was upset because she wouldn't let him play outside with the hose to cool off.
Derek slipped out of the home to play with his brother. Sevey looked for him and after 20 frantic minutes found him in her neighbor's unfenced pool, drowned.
Derek's death was a typical Valley drowning, officials said Thursday at the Phoenix Children's Hospital as they kicked off Drowning Awareness Month beginning Sunday.
"We figured not having a pool eliminated the danger," Sevey said. "I didn't see the pool next door as a danger. We were very very wrong.
And now our boy is gone."
Purple ribbons — 531 of them — tied to trees at the front of the hospital represent the number of water-related accidents in the Valley since January 2000. Of that total, 104 children died, with 12 of those deaths occurring this year.
Dressed in a T-shirt printed with her son's portrait and the words "We'll see you when we get there," Sevey recalled her personal tragedy with the media, fire personnel, hospital staff and others in attendance. Thanks to swimming pools, Arizona ranks among the highest in drownings in the country, she said, citing national statistics.
And the sad thing is, Sevey said, drownings can be prevented.
Now Sevey, with allies such as Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon, is pushing to make pool fences mandatory statewide. A possible bill, named "Derek's law," is in the works. To learn more, visit www.derekslaw.com.
"A fence around every pool in Arizona will prevent deaths," Sevey said.
Sevey said she is aware of difficulties getting such a bill passed in such a property-rights conscious state like Arizona. Still, a locked yard gate and fence around her neighbor's pool could have saved her son's life, she said. Several East Valley cities already have pool fence ordinances.
Gordon said the Maricopa County Attorney's Office is reviewing existing ordinances to see what shape a state law would take. Gordon said he believes such a law is necessary.
"What we have done so far has not solved the problem," he said. August was chosen for Drowning Awareness Month because it is prime season for these accidents to occur, said Phoenix assistant fire chief Bob Khan.
"This is the month more kids are going to drown," Khan said.
Drownings usually occur under similar circumstances: Usually on a weekend, about 5 p.m. And it is not always correct to blame bad parenting for drownings, Khan said.
"No matter how good your parenting skills are, you are human, and you can lose track," Khan said. Phoenix Children's Hospital will hand out purple ribbons throughout August to raise awareness. It's a mantra repeated every year, but Tiffany Isaacson of the hospital's Water Watchers drowning prevention program said public awareness is key to stopping child drownings.
Along with the ribbons, the campaign also will aim to get the message out that yes, drowning can happen to your family.
"We must prevent future drownings," Isaacson said.