Parents persist in summer camp safety fight after child’s death

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ST. LOUIS COUNTY, Mo. – The parents of a 6-year-old boy who drowned at his summer camp in south St. Louis County are fighting for changes that up until this point have largely met with resistance from politicians.

“We need change,” Olga Mister said before confronting the St. Louis County Council. “We need to regulate all camps in St. Louis County.”

Olga and her husband Travone’s 6-year-old son, T.J., drowned in July 2022 at a St. Louis County-run summer camp that was understaffed and missing life-saving equipment.

The county settled the Misters’ lawsuit in July 2023 and County Executive Sam Page ordered new safety rules for county-run summer camps, including required background checks and CPR training.

FOX 2 was in attendance at the official announcement this past October at a playground dedication in T.J.’s honor. Olga said the safety rule changes are not enough.

“We appreciate the gesture, but we will continue the fight,” she said.

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Olga and Travone want it to be the law—not just for county-run summer camps, but for all summer camps—to be regulated just like daycares. That would mean staffing and training requirements.

“We don’t understand why, year after a year, St. Louis County refuses to take it to council?” Olga said at the dedication.

Councilman Mark Harder had asked repeatedly for a special committee meeting to discuss it but was shot down at an October 24 council meeting in which Councilwoman Shalonda Webb said, “To rip that scab open, I could not see the value and could not get a quorum.”

Councilman Ernie Trakas added, “These people have suffered enough.”

But Olga Mister told us later that she does want to talk about it and have the issue debated at council meetings.

“Why would it rub a scab off? I mean, we’re hurting every single day,” she said. “It’s not about us. It’s about the children that are still here.”

She finally convinced the St. Louis County Council to hold a special committee meeting Tuesday in which a bill was introduced to regulate only county-run summer camps.

“Two to four camps! What about the rest of the children?” Olga said.

The committee explored going deeper in the future.

“What I want to know is: how would the Department of Health implement this type of legislation countywide?” Councilman Trakas asked Public Health Director Dr. James Hinrichs.

Hinrichs said his department could pull it off, but not under his current budget.

“I certainly think it’s something worthy of larger discussion,” he said.

Trakas told us later, “It’s going to take more time and consideration and probably at least one more hearing.”

Olga and Travone said they will continue pushing, including at the next special committee meeting to be scheduled soon.


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