Nicole and Julia: Death at Poolside

By Andy Betz

“The brochure says the Williams Aquatic Center houses a full sized Olympic swimming pool, bleachers, separate locker rooms and showers, and ample parking for up to 500 spectators.  The hours today are from 8am to 10pm which includes lifeguard and CPR classes from 10am to 1pm and free swimming for the rest of the day.  If you can manage to get dressed and get in the car, we will not be late for either our CPR training or the free swim.  Nicole, are you even listening to me?”

Since permitting Nicole to share her rental home, saving money, Julia had to understand that Nicole operated within a different set of parameters than Julia was accustomed to, the chief among them was tardiness.  Second was the ever increasing frequency of conducting conversations by yelling from the first floor to the second floor to the first floor and back.  Trapeze artists found themselves in similar circumstances.  Today was no different than any other day.

“Have you tried this swimsuit on yet?”  Nicole yelled down the stairs to an annoyed Julia.  “This is one ugly swimsuit!  If it was sequinned or a calico print, it could not have been any uglier.” 

As usual, Julia held her tongue and counted to 10 before answering.  The metro police department issued both officers rather unattractive, but highly functional swimwear to wear while representing their employer.  Each was a black, one piece suit with an embroidered badge sewn into (and under) the front right strap.  In doing so, the officer wearing this attire was still on duty, but not broadcasting her status until she decided to do so.  The pragmatic Julia approved of such a convenience.  The not-as-pragmatic Nicole frequently balked at such regulations.

As Julia silently reached 9, Nicole came down the stairs. 

While not a Miss America entrance, Nicole did appear presentable and as usual, while on duty, dressed identically to Julia.  The #9 scowl on Julia’s face melted to an all-too-familiar smirk as she attached her fanny pack over her sweat pants.  Nicole did the same as the two left for the pool.

It was Julia’s car today, a gift from her father, the Pastor of his church and a first rate mechanic on the side.  Her granite colored minivan moved carefully through traffic obeying all laws (both the letter and the spirit).  Nicole took this time to check her service pistol before returning it to her fanny pack.  She didn’t have to ask Julia if she had already performed her check.

“Nicole, how is your shoulder?  Have the exercises helped any?”  Nicole wanted to answer, but knew better.  Julia cast the bait.  Her words were the chum of another I-told-you-so conversation not befitting 9:45am on a beautiful Saturday morning drive.  However, never to miss an opportunity to one-up her partner, Nicole took the bait.

“The exercises do not relieve all of the dull pain I keep experiencing.  I’ve tried a few physical therapists, an herbalist, and a practitioner of traditional Chinese medicine.  The jury is still out on each.  It may take another month to return to 100%.”

Julia sensed Nicole’s unease, not about the constant dull pain she experienced during last month’s arrest of a violent offender, but rather her talking about it.  Nicole never explained all the details to the detectives and she didn’t share such details often with Julia.  Maybe it would take another month.

Right on time adjacent to the serendipitous tree shadowing Julia’s favorite parking spot, the minivan rested perfectly between the white lines.  With each checking their water-resistant watches, it was show time at the pool.  Three hours of department mandated CPR then two hours of laps (for Julia) and two hours of trying to avoid laps (for Nicole) and the girls mentally confirmed their agenda.  Except for their faces, both Julia and Nicole looked like twins when they entered the double doors of the aquatic center.  The sight of these two police officers in such close proximity should have caused a mild commotion of sorts.  On any other day it would.

But today was not any other day.

9:58am, the local collegiate water polo team began exiting the pool, all forty of them.  All forty (almost) identical looking men wearing identical red swimsuits, red head gear, and rose colored goggles left the pool exhausted after completing their final exercise in underwater swimming for a two-minute duration.  Their coach demanded that each of the team members could not touch the bottom or sides of the pool or have any part of their body (except their head to breathe) break the surface of the water.  In addition, all 40 of the water polo players had to remain in a confined area of the deep end of the pool.  For those watching this exercise, it looked like a school of fish wearing red spandex swim suits so common for their sport.

9:59am, what was not common or identical was the number of water polo players exiting the pool.  While 39 men left the pool, one remained face-down on the bottom.  One of the recent arrivals for CPR class thought this was a prank.  Another swore he would surface soon.  Officer Nicole Jameson and Officer Julia Braker sprang into action after the 3 lifeguards on duty sounded the alarm and entered the pool to retrieve the athlete. 

10:00am, both officers began moving in haste toward the body, surfacing for an attempt at recovery.

10:04am, despite the best efforts of the lifeguards, Alain Sonesby, local college sophomore, became the first drowning victim at the Williams Aquatic Center.  Onlookers took their cell phones out to record the event.  The water polo team remained in attendance to their brethren in an emotional show of support.  Despite their collective training, none had the ability to reverse the sequence of events leading to Mr. Sonesby’s demise.  Both officers silently paid a small amount of honor to the deceased.

10:05am, Officers Jameson and Braker found themselves in the unenviable position of restraining the entire population of the Williams Aquatic Center to the wooden seats of the bleachers while desperately searching for a local landline (for security purposes) to call for assistance.  Nicole and Julia accomplished the first objective with the assistance of their swimwear badges, verbal authorization, and the removal of their service pistols.  The team coach began locking the doors, from the inside, and gave the keys to Officer Braker.  Officer Jameson used the secured landline phone in the lifeguard’s office to call in the event and request an ambulance and officer assistance.

10:05am to 10:06am, the aquatic center had that eerie acoustical echo so common to flooded caves, not to public areas.  All witnesses abided by the officer’s orders for silence.  A few of the water polo team members looked to be in shock.  A few opted to keep their goggles on.  No one could ascertain their emotional state.

“Officer Jameson, what’s the ETA?” Julia requested.

“HQ says a minimum of 10 minutes.  Apparently, this is a busy morning for ambulances and police.  We are to keep the area secure, permit no one to exit or enter and wait for help.”  Nicole gave this litany as if she rehearsed each word.  Perfect was her diction and clarity.

The remaining 39 members of the water polo team sat quietly on the bleachers.  Not easily, but for now, at least quietly.  As the seconds passed, their quietness belied a growing murmur of speculation and inquisitive hearsay.  The lifeguards and the additional CPR students sat on the bleachers opposite of the water polo team.  Their demeanor beckoned no further worries from either officer.

The water polo team did not remain in mourning for long.  Officer Jameson reminded each to keep their distance and remain silent.  Their cooperation came at the sight of her pistol and the exacting look on her face.  Nicole surmised her voice authority may extend a few minutes more.  By then, she would have to enlist sterner measures to maintain bleacher order.

10:07am, Officer Braker took this time to look at the deceased and examine what the lifeguard discovered.  Mr. Sonesby’s forehead had an abrasion identical to that of a few of the lifeguards had on their knees.  When she inquired, the closest lifeguard informed Julia that these types of abrasions were common here because of the coarse concrete surface of the pool.  “Many of us succumb to pinprick skin here, but none of us have ever encountered the severity of what he has on his forehead.”  Julia thanked the lifeguard and turned her attention to Nicole just in time.

The sound of Officer Jameson ordering a water polo player to “SIT” at gunpoint ricocheted throughout the aquatic center.  Nicole convinced him of the errors of his ways.  Seeing no alternative to such resolve, he smiled and retreated from whence he came.  Except it was closer to another team member.  Within seconds, these two began talking about the situation or Alain or Officer Jameson.  Either way, Nicole glanced at the wall clock.  If dispatch was correct, only 9 more minutes remained.  If dispatch was not correct, this was going to be a somewhat dismal day.

Officer Braker walked along the poolside to speak to her partner.  “Nicole, let’s switch sides.  Could you take a look at the deceased while I watch the team?  We only have a few more minutes and switching sides may lower some of the tension here.”  Julia always confronted adversity with diplomacy.  Her voice remained calm.  Her tone, sensible.  “Julia, watch the one on the far left.  The one with his goggles still on. I don’t trust that one.”  Julia agreed and began monitoring the water polo team.  Acquiescing easily, Nicole lowered her pistol and walked toward the lifeguard still examining the body.

10:09am, Nicole leaned down to look over the deceased.  His forehead abrasion did not bleed, but would have, if he had survived.  The coroner would most likely list the cause of death as drowning, possibly accidental.  With the confusion of so many in the pool, in such a small space, she could see his conclusion as final.

Then Nicole thought again.  Why this water polo player?  It could have been any one of the water polo players.  They all looked the same.  They all had the same build, same age, same swimsuit, and same purpose.  Nicole secured her pistol and rolled the deceased over.  She began a brief examination and did not have to look far.  If you pushed on the back of Alain Sonesby’s neck, it bled.  Not from a cut, but from a puncture.  The blood didn’t ooze, it had to be forced.  She found herself whispering to herself.  “But, what if he was still alive?  Would he bleed?  From this type of wound, would he bruise?”  If she had more time, she might want to watch the autopsy to learn whatever details the coroner could surmise. 

Officer Jameson turned her head to the left to view the time remaining on the wall clock.  She felt that familiar dull pain radiate from her neck to her right arm as she raised herself to her feet.  Instinctively, she rubbed her neck to relieve the pain.  Looking at Mr. Sonesby, Nicole knew what happened.  She knew how he died.  As she reached for her pistol, she knew there were only 38 water polo players.  Number 39 was not a player, he was a murderer, and he should still be on the bleachers.

Karma has a variety of definitions.  If Nicole and Julia had not been assigned to this CPR class, perhaps today would unfold differently.  Perhaps a variety of other possibilities would become evident.  Unfortunately, today was not shaping to be that kind of day.

10:11am, while turning to view Officer Braker, the CPR class witnesses would testify in court that the fight began among the more talkative water polo players.  Totaling 12 in all, their mass cascaded down the bleachers, toward Officer Braker.  Standing her ground and discharging a single shot into the roof, ten of the twelve ceased all motion and froze, lifeless, less they were shot at again.  Julia did not utter a single word.  She did not have to.  Diplomacy never works in all cases.

For the remaining two in the pool they went.  Officer Jameson began a series of orders to separate the final two combatants.  The first (later identified as Jamie Goldman) broke free and moved to the shallow end.  The second swam to the CPR side of the pool.  Officer Jameson pursued the second in earnest.

Had the 2 remaining lifeguards not decided to block the fleeing water polo player’s hasty exit, the approaching police, exterior to the aquatic center, would have apprehended him easily.  As it was, he turned away from the formidable defense of the lifeguards, only to find the awaiting right hook of Officer Jameson.  The contact halted his progress and sent him tumbling back into the pool.

10:12am to 10:30am, the final police report lists these facts in chronological order.

Officer Nicole Jameson punched water polo team member Robert Benitez

Robert Benitez fell into the pool

Lifeguards Thomas and Benjamin Hobrook (brothers) retrieved Robert Benitez from the pool

Officer Jameson broke her right hand and dislocated her right shoulder when striking Mr. Benitez

Officer Jameson requested a search of Mr. Benitez’s swimwear

Officer McDonough found an acupuncture needle top in the waistband of Benitez’s swimsuit

The remaining details of the case came from the sworn testimonies of both Officer Nicole Jameson and Officer Julia Braker nearly three months later.

“Officer Jameson, please describe how you knew the death of Alain Sonesby was not a drowning?”  Nicole began her narrative from the moment she discovered the injury to the back of Mr. Sonesby.  “I examined the injury on Mr. Sonesby’s neck.  On any other day, I too would have discounted it to a previous cut or puncture, unrelated to the case.  However, considering I also have recently experienced a series of acupuncture needles inserted just above my C7 vertebrae, then to both the left and the right of the C6/C7 midline, for the purpose of minimizing neck pain and the associated arm pain from which it radiates from.  Mr. Sonesby had the initial acupuncture mark on his neck and the associated bruise my technician explained would occur if I moved or struggled during the procedure.  He said I would bleed if I moved the needle or if he improperly placed it.  When I asked the technician how that could happen, he said by lack of experience or if the procedure was rushed.  Either way, upon the placement of the first needle, I experienced a mild nerve response forcing me to inhale deeply.  I was not underwater, being held down, when my trained technician began the procedure.  When I arose from Alain’s body, and re-experienced my radial arm pain all the way to my neck, I understood what occurred.  Alain was underwater when Robert inserted the needle.  Alain took a deep breath and drowned immediately.  Robert, in the confusion of 38 identical swimmers, tried to remove the needle, but broke the end off.  Having the needle beyond his grasp, but the cap to hide, Robert exited the pool and blended in with the rest of the water polo team.  No one could tell one member from another in the confusion.”  It was a long narrative, but not a complete narrative.  “I do have one more question.  You make no mention of ever retrieving the acupuncture needle you claimed Robert Benitez used to kill Alain Sonesby.  Did you or anyone else ever find that acupuncture needle?”  Officer Jameson replied “No” and rose to leave the room.

The investigator asked that Officer Julia Braker enter to give her testimony.  “Officer Braker, I have a few questions for you to answer.  First, why did you discharge your firearm at the onset of the fight?”  Julia was prepared for this inevitable question.  “I have my service pistol already drawn in case of such a situation occurring.  While the group of twelve water polo players did collectively present a clear and present danger to me, none of them presented an individual danger.  To maintain that veneer of order, I discharge my firearm into the roof to acquire the attention of as many of the twelve as possible.”  The investigator decided not to pursue amendments to this question.  He did, however, begin a new series of inquiries.  “Officer Braker, for the record, please describe the details of your investigation into the Alain Sonesby murder.”  Julia preferenced her statement with a silent count to 10 and a small smirk when she reached 9.  “During the last month of my imposed desk work related to discharging my firearm, I began a series of investigation in the Alain Sonesby murder case.  It is my opinion that Mr. Sonesby was not the target of Robert Benitez’s murderous intent.  Mr. Benitez’s intended target was water polo player, Jamie Goldman.  The facts that led me to this conclusion were as follows.  Jamie Goldman was a recent addition to the team (a rarity for a freshman) and a scholarship player.  He filled the role of Driver (or Flat) and was recruited both for his ability and the fact he was left handed (another rarity).  His addition made the necessity of keeping Robert Benitez (a junior) as a right handed scholarship Driver of lesser renown, useless.  To maintain his position on the team and preserve his scholarship, Robert Benitez decided to kill using an acupuncture technique that induced a small, but distinct response from a neck nerve inducing a large inhalation. 

Underwater, this response was fatal.  Keeping with the level of confusion of 40 players all dressed identically and moving rapidly underwater, Mr. Benitez attacked Mr. Sonesby thinking he was attacking Mr. Goldman.  He succeeded in killing the wrong person (a fact Mr. Benitez did not confirm until both Officer Jameson and myself arrived for CPR class adjacent to the pool with the recently deceased residing).  At this point, Mr. Benitez could place the acupuncture needle in a variety of hiding places and weather the impending investigation.  He must have thought no one would consider him a suspect because Mr. Sonesby was a goal keeper, not on scholarship.  His mistake would not draw suspicion.  However, we (Officer Jameson and I) arrived, then Mr. Benitez became worried and had to devise a plan to not only kill Mr. Goldman, but commit the act in front of nearly 50 witnesses and two police officers.  Should he succeed, and considering the circumstances, no amount of investigation could reveal a singular motive that would withstand a jury deliberation.  All Mr. Benitez required was a diversion to get Mr. Goldman to fall into the pool and force him to drown without the use of the acupuncture needle.  I say without, because the original needle must have broken during the attack on Mr. Sonesby. 

All Mr. Benitez had was the end of the needle and he easily hid that in the waistband of his swimsuit.  Being a stronger swimmer than Mr. Goldman, Mr. Benitez’s plan may have worked if I had not fired my service pistol in the roof dispensing with 10 of the original 12 members of the water polo team involved in the original fight.  Having no cover of strength-in-numbers, Mr. Benitez exited the pool and ran.  Turned around by the Hobrook twins (2 of the remaining lifeguards on duty), Mr. Benitez returned into the waiting right hook of Officer Jameson who subdued him at the cost of injuring her hand and reinjuring her right arm.  In short, Mr. Benitez used the confusion of identical members of the water polo team to only confuse himself and murder the wrong intended target.”

It was quite the monologue for Julia, quite the day for both Nicole and Julia.  An internal investigation would nominate both for a commendation and both for disciplinary review (Officer Braker for discharging her firearm, Officer Jameson for contaminating a crime scene).  Their Lieutenant suggested a month of administrative leave (coinciding with the rehab requirements for Nichole) for both.  During that period, they could relish in their dossier enhancements and report to the old records office to rearrange the aforementioned records to a more “user friendly” status.  It would be dirty, boring, and of very little interest to either of the officers.  But it did allow time to work off the reprimands and expand their knowledge of previous cold cases.

“Who knows”, asked Nicole, “we may have some fun yet!”

It was all Julia could do to silently count to 10.

Bio: The works of Andy Betz are found everywhere a search engine operates.  Andy has written many great things that have been posted to The Yard: Crime Blog, including, “Water” with Jaysa Brown, “The Less You Have, the More It Hurts To Lose It”, “I Knew Her as Tigist“, “How My New Life Began“, “Et Tu“, “Senny” with Dounia Saunders, “Oleander“, “The Best Advice I Ever Got“, “If I Ask Your Opinion“, “As the Sun Sets“, “Walter,” “The Saddest Lies“, “By Morning”. He has also been interviewed.

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Publishing Editor for The Yard: Crime Blog.

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