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Publish Date: 4/20/2005

Parents try to explain son’s death
CSU student likely died from ‘shallow water blackout’


BERTHOUD — The family of the 23-year-old Colorado State University student who drowned in a campus pool Nov. 23 say a condition called “shallow water blackout” may have caused his death.

David Karspeck’s mother and father said Tuesday they wanted to share their theory about why their son stopped swimming because CSU has not acknowledged the results of the investigation into their son’s death.

“The silence is deafening,” Pat Karspeck said at an afternoon news conference at the family home.

She and her husband, Berthoud Mayor Milan Karspeck, shared their disappointment that CSU officials have not been more forthcoming with students about what happened.

David Karspeck’s parents said they believe their son was practicing how far he could swim without coming up for a breath by first hyperventilating.

This technique allows a swimmer to start swimming with less carbon dioxide in the blood. A person’s brain normally signals the person to breathe when carbon dioxide builds to a certain level in the blood.

Low carbon dioxide levels trick the brain into thinking the swimmer doesn’t need to take a breath. That can cause the person to black out.

The Karspecks had seen their son do that before while on camping trips and decided in December that shallow water blackout caused their son to stop swimming.

“There was a real sense of closure with that,” Pat Karspeck said. “I wasn’t wondering anymore.”

They are also upset that recreation center staff and others at CSU did not immediately tell the family their son had been unconscious in the pool for several minutes.

Doctors tried to resuscitate Karspeck for more than 15 hours. He was pronounced brain dead at Poudre Valley Hospital in Fort Collins at 10:45 a.m. Nov. 24.

Twenty-two hours after Karspeck was taken from the pool, his parents learned he’d been underwater for more than the minute doctors suspected.

“We could have helped the doctors,” CSU spokesman Brad Bohlander acknowledged Tuesday after the press conference. “We could have saved the family grief.”

Bohlander said the university has changed some of its emergency procedures to make sure no other deaths happen in CSU pools. The university has changed the positioning of surveillance cameras to show more of the pool and has improved lifeguard training.

CSU officials will also review surveillance footage immediately in medical emergencies to share relevant information with doctors.

The Karspecks said Tuesday they expect to finalize a settlement agreement with the university soon.

The fifth of seven children, David Karspeck was to graduate next month with a degree in computer science.

The family said they wanted his classmates who will likely move after graduation to know what caused his death.

Karspeck had just finished his first lap during a routine swim before an anticipated dinner date with his parents when he sank to the bottom of a 6-foot-deep pool.

Unnoticed by a lifeguard, Karspeck was on the the pool floor for 8 minutes and 20 seconds, according to CSU police reports.

The lifeguard was distracted by a co-worker, according to police investigators who reviewed the recreation center surveillance tape.

Another lap swimmer noticed Karspeck’s motionless body and pulled him to the surface. Nearly a minute passed before recreation center staff pulled him from the water and started CPR, family members said.

Known for his generous spirit, Karspeck had elected to be an organ donor. The family stayed with him during the 30 hours before the surgery to remove his organs, giving them a chance to say goodbye.

Pat Karspeck said Tuesday she wished his heart could have been donated.

“The coroner wanted it for an autopsy,” Milan Karspeck said.

The family this Arbor Day, in their son’s honor, will plant a honey locust tree at Berthoud High School to replace one that was damaged by a lawn mower. David Karspeck, for his Eagle Scout project, tried to protect the trees from lawn mowers by ringing them with mulch.

Jenn Ooton can be reached at 303-684-5295, or by e-mail at jooton@times-call.com.

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