EASTPOINTE (WWJ/AP) – A not guilty plea has been entered on behalf of a man charged with involuntary manslaughter following the death of a teenage boy he failed to pull from a high school pool.
Johnathan Sails appeared Wednesday for arraignment in Eastpointe’s 38th District Court. His lawyer, Robert Leonetti, declined to comment to reporters after the hearing.
Macomb County Prosecutor Eric Smith said Sails was found to be “grossly negligent” in the death of 14-year-old KeAir Swift, a ninth grader at East Detroit High School in Eastpointe.
According to Smith, Sails was supposed to be monitoring a remedial swim class on Nov. 8 when students told him KeAir was having trouble in the water. Smith told Mlive.com that Sails, with the help of a janitor, tried to get KeAir out of the pool using some nearby equipment, but was unsuccessful.
Authorities say Sails then went into a locker room to change clothes before jumping into the pool. Smith said Sails was still struggling to pull KeAir from the water when a vice principal heard the commotion and came rushing to the pool area. The principal, still wearing a dress suit, then jumped into the pool and pulled KeAir to the surface.
KeAir, who reportedly went 14 minutes without oxygen to his brain, was rushed to the hospital where he died three days later after being taken off life support.
Smith said Sails was working as the school’s long-term substitute swim instructor, even though he wasn’t certified as a swim teacher or a lifeguard. Smith said the school apparently never verified Sails’ credentials.
“This defendant was not paying any attention and had to be convinced that KeAir was in trouble,” Smith said. “You know, the slightest amount of attention paid by the defendant and we could have avoided this entire tragic episode.”
LaKisha Swift told the Macomb Daily she encouraged her son to sign up for the class because he wanted to learn how to swim.
Smith told the Macomb Daily they believe the school district was negligent, “but we just couldn’t charge them.”
Sails is due back in court for a preliminary hearing on March 19. If convicted as charged, he could spend up to 15 years in prison.
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