AKRON, Ohio (WJW) – The parents of a local teenager who drowned while at an organized outing with his high school teammates are speaking out about him and about his death.
Toshaye Pope was about to enter Akron’s Early College Program, a joint venture between Akron Public Schools and the University of Akron.
“He was a loving kid. Sweet, dependable, got along with everyone,” said Victoria Washington, his mother. “He was going to Akron Early College. He was very good in math. He was like a genius.”
His father says Pope was also a gifted athlete.
“He tried boxing for the first time. He was a standout in that. He tried wrestling for the first time, went undefeated and won the city in that. He did track basketball, football. Anything he put his mind to, he excelled in, including academics,” said Timothy Washington.
Pope was working during the morning of July 21 but wanted to join his football teammates from Ellet High School for an afternoon session.
His parents said he told them the bus carrying team members was leaving at 12:30 p.m. so they had a neighbor take him to the football field.
They believed the team was going to a football camp in Cleveland, but they were going to an organized outing at Melanie Lake near Uniontown.
“I didn’t know about the outing at Melanie Lake. I just knew he had a football camp he had to go to,” said his father.
“I didn’t receive any permission slip, waiver or anything for Toshaye to attend,” said his mother.
Pope’s parents believe nearly 50 football players were supervised by only one adult, a coach who they believe left.
As gifted an athlete as Pope was, the one thing they say he could not do was swim.
“We never took him anywhere past five feet because Toshaye couldn’t really swim,” said his mother.
“I hate the words that I used, but I cant lie,” said his dad. “I always told him he knew how to not drown but he can’t swim but that’s because I never let him go nowhere without me.” “We go to a lake, I’m there. We go to the beach and when I’m out of town, his uncles are there, so he doesn’t have anything to worry about, but I wasn’t there and he wouldn’t have went if I was there.”
His parents say Pope was in 14 feet of water when he drowned.
They learned of his death in a phone call from authorities, including local EMS, informing them that their son had been taken to Akron Children’s Hospital.
“EMS called me and I’m just panicking and he’s like, ‘Toshaye had an accident in the lake,’ and I’m just like, ‘Is he going to make it?’ He’s telling me he’s hoping so but from his tone I just knew he was gone,” said Pope’s mother.
Attorney Allen Tittle, who represents the family, tells FOX 8 that he wants to hear from as many people as he can who were at Lake Melanie on the day Pope drowned. He says what he is hearing is disturbing.
“What we are finding out is pretty heartbreaking, that lifeguards were nowhere to be found when Toshaye went under. His teammate was screaming for help and no one was coming and then eventually someone ran from the concession stands to help,” said Tittle.
“There was supposed to be five lifeguards out there, but when my son went down, the team was trying to save him and then the lifeguards supposedly had jumped in,” said his father.
Lake Melanie management had previously released a statement which reads: “We are heartbroken about this tragic accident!! The safety of everyone who comes to swim at our park is our upmost priority! At the time of the accident, we had five lifeguards on duty. We take all safety measures possible, including meeting state and county regulations, and maintaining current appropriate permits! OUR deepest sympathies go out to the family and loved ones of this young man who have suffered this horrific loss!”
“If you look at this thing, the front says six foot and then the back end says 14. The bottom line is we have to make sure that the signage is safe,” said Tittle.
The Akron Public School District previously released a statement expressing condolences and saying an inquiry was being launched into the incident.
On Wednesday, the district had nothing to add to that statement.