Mysterious death at Beijing Olympics

August 14, 2008 8:06:28 AM PDT
The world was stunned by last weekend's suicide knife attack in Beijing, in which the father-in-law of an American coach was killed. But the I-Team has learned - that wasn't the only American death at the China games. A woman from Chicago died first.

The first American died in China more than a week ago - five days before the games began. Twenty-five-year old Ann DeWaters of Chicago was killed in Beijing Monday, August 4 in an incident that went unannounced and is still unexplained by both U.S. and Chinese authorities and the American relief organization she was working for.

The I-Team was notified of the death last week by a friend of DeWaters' family. Since then, several of the young woman's associates have said they were suspicious at the initial reports that she had fallen from a train or plunged through the roof of a building.

"Folks just don't seem to know very much about what happened," said Dorothy Miaso, Literacy Volunteers executive director.

At the Literacy Volunteers of Illinois, DeWaters' unexplained death stunned those who worked with her last year.

"She was a tutor in our Jump Start program, which operates over at the Illinois Youth Centers," said Miaso.

DeWaters was working at the Olympics through a Florida human services organization that deployed 160 volunteers to the China games. The organization's director would not reveal how DeWaters died, calling it "an unfortunate incident."

In Washington, state department officials refused to say what killed her. American diplomats in Beijing said it was an apparent accident.

"It seems the details are just not coming, and I guess nobody really knows why," Miaso said.

On Capitol Hill, one congressman, Rockford Representative Don Manzullo, does know why.

DeWaters worked for him as an intern in 2006. Manzullo's spokesman told the I-Team she was, "walking down a Beijing street returning to her hotel . . . when she fell through an open manhole and hit her head."

Manhole cover thefts in China are a deadly public safety problem; 24,000 covers were stolen from Beijing streets in 2004, according to official news agency reports. Most were sold to scrap metal dealers trying to meet increased demand during the Olympic building boom.

This summer, Chinese officials ordered crews to begin bolting down the city's 840,000 sewer covers to prevent thievery and stop people from falling in and dying. It wasn't soon enough for DeWaters.

On one blog, one Olympic volunteer last week posted details of what happened to DeWaters. Within a few hours, it was replaced with a much more benign statement that the volunteer's father says was written by someone else, possibly an embarrassed Chinese government. Now, even that posting has been taken down.

Congressman Manzullo helped the DeWaters family with the return of the body from China. A North Side funeral home confirmed that her remains arrived Wednesday. A wake and funeral were scheduled for Friday and Saturday at an Irving Park church and then burial at a Niles cemetery.

To many of those who knew DeWaters, the details of how she died are far less important than remembering her how she lived.

"She could have really made probably a big difference and it was just so sad to see her life cut short like that," said Miaso.

Among all of the Beijing Olympic stats, there are a few you won't hear: 47 people died falling into open Chinese manholes and 10,000 were injured in one year alone - 2006. DeWaters may be proof that the problem is far from solved.


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