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Feds To Pay $2M For Drowning At Seven Sacred Pools

Victim's Family Attorney Says Tragedy Could Have Been Prevented

POSTED: 3:32 pm HST July 11, 2007

HONOLULU -- The federal government is paying $2 million to the family of a man who drowned off Seven Sacred Pools almost four years ago.

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The man would not have died if the National Park Service had made safety improvements at the popular Maui site that were recommended long before his death, the family's lawyer said.

Kevin Oakley, of California, died 15 months after another tourist was swept out to sea and drowned because of heavy currents at Seven Sacred Pools.

The picturesque set of pools near Hana on Maui is very popular with tourists. About 100,000 visitors go there every month during the summer.

In August 2003, Kevin Oakley, 41, visited the Seven Sacred Pools with his wife and two children.

When his 7-year-old son reached for his slipper and was swept away by a strong current, his father tried to rescue him.

A vacationing emergency medical technician jumped in to save the boy, but Oakley drowned.

"The water was too rough to attempt a second rescue, and there was no rescue equipment available at the scene," the family's attorney, Wayne Kekina, said.

The fatal accident could have been prevented, Kekina said.

"The National Park Service knew of the unexpected strong current in the pool area when the waters are elevated, and this current was a hidden hazard to visitors," Kekina said.

Months before Oakley's death, in reaction to another drowning, a federal board of inquiry recommended the installation of a rescue ring and the use of stream gauges to determine when the current was too strong and the pools should be closed.

"They did not follow up on their own recommendations," Kekina said.

Within a few months after Oakley died, the NPS added warning signs and a gate with a lock, to block access to the pools when the current is more than 10-cubic-feet per second. The service also started monitoring a Web site that gives stream current readings every 15 minutes for quick response to changing rain conditions. It also installed rescue rings at the pools.

"This is the critical part, they have taken the proper measures for the safety of the visitors," Kekina said.

The federal government settled a lawsuit with Oakley's family last month for $2 million. The government paid another $2 million to the family of a New York woman, who drowned more than a year before Oakley after being swept away from Seven Sacred Pools during similar conditions.