Tuesday, January 25, 2000

Death of recent grad stuns Lakota

School provides grief counselors

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        UNION TOWNSHIP — Students and teachers at a Butler County high school were stunned and saddened Monday by the accidental death Friday of a recent graduate.

        Aaron Powell, 17, of West Chester drowned at an Indianapolis hotel the night before he was to join the Navy. He had been dropped off at the hotel by a Navy recruiter and was practicing his swimming.

        Aaron had graduated from Lakota West two weeks ago, eager to finish high school early to join the Navy.

        “The Navy was something he really, really wanted. It was like, this was going to be his thing,” said teacher Teri Ploscowe, who had Aaron this year in a study skills class.

        Lakota West made grief counselors available Monday, and several students met with them, said Assistant Principal Pieter Elmendorf.

        “With the suddenness of this, I think it really took a lot of people aback,” Mr. Elmendorf said.

        The Navy, too, is grieving, said Cmdr. Steve Lowry, a spokesman.

        “We're a little torn up about this, too,” he said. “It's just absolutely tragic.”

        He said the Navy is review ing its policies on how it notifies families about casualties in the wake of the accident.

        The Navy initially did not send a chaplain or casualty officer to the West Chester family, as it normally would have for a sailor, because there's no written procedure for handling the death of a recruit who has not yet entered the service, Cmdr. Lowry said. As soon as senior officers learned of the situation, he said, they insisted those courtesy visits be paid.

        Aaron's father, Richard Powell, who served 20 years in the Navy before retiring in 1996, has objected to both the Navy's lack of courtesy in not initially paying a visit, and the fact that his 17-year-old son was left alone at the hotel.

        But Cmdr. Lowry said recruits from all of the armed forces stay at the hotel, and recruiters are not permitted on the premises. And he's not sure stationing a recruiter at the hotel could have prevented Aaron's death.

        “I don't know if anything short of being with him 24 hours a day would have been able to prevent that, as regrettable, as tragic as it was,” Cmdr. Lowry said.

        Visitation for Aaron will be held 5-8 p.m. Friday at Colligan Funeral Home, 437 S. Third St., Hamilton. Saturday's funeral will be private. Memorials may be made to the American Diabetes Association, 8899 Brookside Ave., West Chester, 45069.


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