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Alameda Police Release Memorial Day Drowning 911 Calls

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Raymond Zack drowned 50 feet offshore at Crown Memorial State Beach in Alameda on May 30, 2011 as firefighters and police watched.

Raymond Zack drowned 50 feet offshore at Crown Memorial State Beach in Alameda on May 30, 2011 as firefighters and police watched.

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ALAMEDA (CBS SF) — The Alameda Police Department Wednesday released 911 calls and a timeline of events surrounding the death of a man who intentionally drowned at Crown Beach on Memorial Day while rescuers watched from the shore for almost an hour, prompting outrage from the public.

“He’s trying to drown himself,” 53-year-old Raymond Zack’s elderly mother told a 911 dispatcher in the calls released today. “Hurry up, he’s way out there. He doesn’t swim. Please hurry.”

KCBS’ Holly Quan Reports:

Zack had waded about 150 yards into the water near the 2100 block of Shoreline Drive. He had tried to commit suicide before, his mother, Dolores Berry, told the dispatcher at 11:33 a.m.

Emergency responders arrived on scene just minutes later, but they watched from the beach as Zack eventually lost consciousness and was brought to shore by a good Samaritan, according to the police transcript. Zack later died at a local hospital.

Fire department protocol prohibited rescuers from going into the water because their water-rescue certification had lapsed, the fire department’s acting deputy chief of operations, Daren Olson, said the day after the drowning.

According to the transcript, police contacted the U.S. Coast Guard at 11:32 a.m., two minutes after the first call was made to 911, to request a rescue boat and helicopter for Zack.

The Coast Guard said its crews were about 40 minutes out, so the Alameda Police Department contacted the sheriff’s office, Oakland Police Department, and Alameda County Fire Department in search of a closer boat.

None of the agencies could offer faster assistance, according to the transcript.

At 11:42 a.m., the Coast Guard said its boat was about 15 minutes away and almost ready to leave. At 12:06 p.m., the agency advised police its boat and helicopter were en route, but by then Zack appeared to be floating face down, according to the transcript.

At 12:17 p.m., the Coast Guard radioed police to say they could not reach Zack because the water was too shallow. Alameda police then called the East Bay Regional Park District to see if they had any crews available.

Around the same time, at 12:24 p.m., police instructed dispatch to ask Alameda County Search and Rescue to send someone out to do a “recovery.” At 12:27 p.m., the officers on the scene radioed dispatch to say a volunteer would go into the water to retrieve Zack.

Police then called the dispatch center to request crime scene screens for privacy once Zack was brought to shore.

It turned out the Coast Guard helicopter was occupied on another call and needed to refuel, and the Police Department does not appear to have called the California Highway Patrol to see if a chopper was available

The day after the drowning, the fire department changed its policy so rescue swimmers could be sent into the water at the discretion of the incident commander on scene, acting city manager Lisa Goldman said at Tuesday’s City Council meeting.

The department has 30 volunteers scheduled for rescue swimmer training, including 16 who will begin the certification process next week, she said.

The city will also conduct an independent review and is compiling documents relevant to the incident, Mayor Marie Gilmore said at the meeting. The materials will include transcripts, timelines and department memos regarding water-rescue training.

The site was under construction today and is expected to go live by the end of the week, the city manager’s office said.

“This has been a really tragic, tragic situation for obviously Mr. Zack, and certainly his family and members of the public,” Gilmore said at Saturday’s meeting.

“We will be as transparent as we can,” she added. “We understand that there is a competence problem right now, and we want to assure our residents we have made and will continue to make the changes that are necessary.”

Deputy Fire Chief Olson said last week that if a firefighter had disobeyed protocol by going in after Zack without proper training, the individual would not necessarily have been punished.

But Zack was an adult man, 6 feet 3 inches tall and 280 pounds, who was intent on taking his own life, Olson said. First responders had no way of knowing if he were armed or would have tried to hurt a would-be rescuer.

“Grabbing an arm and tugging him to shore is not only maybe not an option, but perhaps recklessly dangerous,” he said the day after the drowning.

The water was also about 54 degrees, adding to the difficulties rescuers faced, Olson said.

(Copyright 2011 by CBS San Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Wire services may have contributed to this report.)

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