Details emerge in drowning probe
By JACKIE STARK
For The Daily News
MARQUETTE – Based on the timeline provided in police reports, Northern Michigan University soccer player Arianna “Anna” Alioto may have drowned in the university’s lap pool while teammates were working out in the dive tank a short distance away.
Alioto, an 18-year-old freshman, drowned in the Physical Education Instructional Facility pool during a team practice involving about 20 players held there from 4 p.m. to 5 p.m. Nov. 30, 2012.
According to the NMU Public Safety Department’s report, which was obtained by The Mining Journal through a Freedom of Information Act request, the practice took place in both the lap pool as well as the dive tank.
The report shows that while Alioto was seen by many during drills in the lap pool, no one interviewed saw her exit the lap pool, enter the dive tank or leave the pool area.
Many of the players told police Alioto was a strong swimmer, often finishing in the top few during pool workouts. However, several players said Alioto looked tired about halfway through the Nov. 30 practice.
One player, who was Alioto’s partner during a one-on-one tug-of-war exercise, told police Alioto seemed very tired during that drill. The player “claimed she wasn’t using her hand and barely her feet for momentum and she still managed to beat Alioto it seemed Alioto was extremely tired.”
“According to (the player), Alioto made a comment to the effect of ‘well, that was I don’t even know,'” the report goes on to say. “Acknowledging that she hadn’t put much effort into it.”
Many players said Alioto seemed tired, but they also told police the drills were difficult and made everyone tired.
After the fourth drill, head soccer coach Matt Granstrand had the team move to the dive tank for the final portion of the practice.
Granstrand told police “he was watching his players while they swam and Alioto appeared to be fine.”
“Granstrand explained that he watched the girls while they were swimming, however doesn’t normally watch them close, while they exit the pool,” the report states. “Granstrand believed some of his players may feel awkward with him watching them as they exit the water, due to the difference in gender.”
One player told police she saw and “made eye contact” with Alioto after exiting the lap pool. Alioto was “standing in the shallow end by the diving board.”
“She looked tired (everyone did), her face was just blank, she looked fine just like she was tired and was taking her time,” the player said in a written statement. “I didn’t think anything of it.”
According to the report, none of the players remembered seeing Alioto leave the lap pool, enter the dive tank or participate in the drills that took place in the dive tank.
No one remembered seeing her when the team huddled up before entering the locker rooms. One player told police Alioto was “definitely not” in the huddle.
No one remembered seeing her in the locker room after the practice was over.
Some players told police they thought Alioto may have gone to see an athletic trainer. Several players said they had heard about or saw that Alioto was accidentally hit in the knee – the same knee that had recently undergone surgery for an injured ACL – by another player during the tug-of-war exercise.
Others saw an unused brown towel lying on the bleachers as they entered the locker room.
One player saw Alioto’s swimming goggles on the ground. She looked around the room for Alioto and when she didn’t see her, the player picked up the goggles and brought them into the locker room, assuming Alioto was already in there.
Most of the players told police they left the PEIF once the practice was finished. A small group stayed behind to wait for Alioto, since they had come as a group to the practice. When she didn’t come out of the locker room, the group began looking for her. They checked PEIF classrooms and the athletic trainers’ offices, but couldn’t find Alioto.
That’s when one of the players, between 5:15 and 5:20 p.m., called Granstrand, asking if he had seen her. She told Granstrand Alioto’s things were still in the women’s locker room and a towel could be seen from the locker room window still in the pool area.
NMU’s head lifeguard, who was on duty during the soccer practice, told police that once the team left, she completed her pool-closing duties, turning off the radio and locking the men’s locker room as well as office doors.
“(The lifeguard) advised she then scanned/checked the pool to make sure everyone was out of the water,” the report states. “When asked if she walked around the pool to visually check the pool perimeter, she stated, ‘no.'”
According to the report, the lifeguard turned in her key at approximately 5 p.m.
At about 5:10 p.m., the report states PEIF student building manager Ashley DiLeonardi conducted an orientation session with three new PEIF student employees in the pool area.
All four told police they were only in the room for a few minutes. The overhead lights were off, and they did not pay attention to the water, only going into the office for a few minutes to look at the equipment before leaving the pool area. No one remembered seeing a person in the water.
DiLeonardi would be one of three student employees who would attempt to rescue Alioto, once she was seen by Northern student Kelly Aldrich.
Aldrich told police that after completing a workout in an area overlooking the pool, she was putting on her coat to leave when she saw someone in the water. It was 5:39 p.m.
“Aldrich observed a body submerged in the pool near lane 4,” the police report states. “The body had its arms outstretched in front of it and was approximately 4 feet out from the wall in the shallow end of the lap pool. Aldrich said that the pool water was completely calm and most of the lights were out Because the water was completely calm it led her to believe that the body had been in the pool for a while.”
The lane Aldrich saw Alioto near was the same lane several players said Alioto used during the group’s final drill in the lap pool.
Aldrich told police she immediately ran to the PEIF information desk and informed DiLeonardi, PEIF student staff member Connor Greer and NMU Recreational Sports Manager Katie Theut of what she had seen.
Aldrich said she, Theut and DiLeonardi ran to the pool. Theut jumped in the water to pull Alioto up.
According to the report, Alioto was completely underwater, facing the dive tank.
Greer told police that, after arriving on the scene, he saw foam near Alioto’s mouth, which made him think she had had a seizure.
The group worked to rescue Alioto, until EMS arrived and transported Alioto to Marquette General Hospital, where she was pronounced dead at 6:15 p.m.
A few players told police Alioto had epilepsy.
One player – who was also Alioto’s dorm roommate – said she had witnessed Alioto have a seizure over the summer.
She said Alioto took medication daily for her epilepsy, using a pill box to keep track of how many pills to take per day.
She told police she checked the pill box the day after the drowning. The previous day’s pills, she said, were still in the box.
At least two players told police they had previously driven Alioto to a local pharmacy, one in October and one in September, to pick up medication. However, only one of those two players said she knew the medication was for epilepsy.
Granstrand, when asked by police if he was aware that Alioto was epileptic, stated “no.”
Police also interviewed Dr. John Lehtinen, the university’s physician. Lehtinen told police that “new athletes are required to complete a questionnaire designed to identify their medical history and what, if any, medications they are taking. Returning athletes discuss any new medical issues that may have occurred since their last interview, including any surgeries that they had and any medications they may be taking.”
The report does not state Alioto told Lehtinen about her epilepsy.
What Lehtinen told police is consistent with the NCAA’s 2012-2013 Sports Medicine Handbook. The handbook requires Division I and II – NMU soccer is in Division II – schools to undergo a “pre-participation medical evaluation” upon entering an “institution’s intercollegiate athletics program.”
“This initial medical evaluation should include a comprehensive health history, immunization history as defined by current Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines and relevant physical exam, with strong emphasis on the cardiovascular, neurologic and musculoskeletal evaluation,” the handbook states.
Nowhere in the handbook is it said the athlete needs to disclose medical information about himself or herself to anyone but the team’s physician. It also does not say the team’s physician is required to tell the team’s coach about any medical conditions suffered by an athlete.
Questions posed this morning to NMU Athletic Director Forest Karr concerning whether any required medical reporting relationship exists at Northern between athletes and their coaches, or coaches and team physicians, were left unanswered as of press time today.
In an interview with The Mining Journal conducted Monday, Dr. Brian MacFalda, a neurologist working for Marquette General Health System, said epileptic seizures are not always as dramatic as most people think. They are often subtle.
“The problem is there’s not one particular type,” MacFalda said. “(Epilepsy is) abnormal electrical activity within the brain. It’s not always the shaking that people think it is. Sometimes, it can be a staring off type of spell.”
Called “complex partial” seizures, MacFalda said these subtle seizures are the type most commonly suffered by people with epilepsy.
“Those are the ones where there might just be staring off, maybe having little movements that somebody might not see or pay much attention to,” MacFalda said. “But the thing that separates it though, is this altered level of consciousness. Those are the dangerous ones, because if you’re in a car, you lose consciousness for even that brief period of time, you don’t know what’s going on. If you’re in a bathtub, in the pool, in Lake Superior and this happens, bad things could happen because you’re not aware of what’s going on.”
However, MacFalda said when given the right type of medication, people with epilepsy can often control the frequency of their seizures. He said in some cases, the seizures will stop completely, and people can begin to lower the amount of medication required to control them.
“In most cases, it’s pretty well controlled,” MacFalda said. “Out of all of the people that have seizures, there’s probably only about 20 percent that are considered uncorrectable.”
According to the police report, Alioto’s mother on Dec. 1 told Dean of Students Christine Greer that her daughter could only “go for a day and a half without taking her medication before she is susceptible to having a seizure.”
Alioto, a native of Columbia, Mo., was redshirting her freshman year because of the ACL injury to her knee.
Her funeral took place in December in her hometown.
Jackie Stark can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 242. Her email address is email@example.com.