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77-year-old woman dies on steam room bench at 24-Hour Fitness

Posted at 12:48 PM, Jul 15, 2015
and last updated 2015-07-15 12:48:40-04

LITTLETON, Colo. -- A Denver woman died after passing out in the steam room of a 24 Hour Fitness club, but her body wasn't discovered until the next day and then it wasn't even staff who found her.

KDVR reportsthe body of 77-year-old Akiko Belich was found at 7:45 a.m. on March 30 by two female gym members. Club records show Belich entered the 24 Hour Fitness at 8966 W. Bowles Ave. in Littleton at 1:06 p.m. on Sunday March 29.

"My heart dropped. I was like 'I just can't believe it, what happened?'" said Melissa Belich, the granddaughter of Akiko Belich.

Jefferson County Deputy Coroner Jon Cline determined Belich had been dead at least 12 hours when she was found. The autopsy report stated Belich died from acute renal failure because of dehydration.

"Awful … obviously they didn't bother to make rounds of the facility to make sure that everybody's alright," gym member Sonya Wasinger said.

She was one of the two 24 Hour Fitness customers who found Belich on a bench in the steam room.

"I wish I could've gone in and found her and revived her," said a crying Wasinger.

Akiko Belich

By the time Wasinger found Belilch's body, it's possible the body could have been in the steam room for 17 hours. Jefferson County Sheriff's Office investigators learned the steam room temperature was set at 115 to 118 degrees.

Wasinger said it's inconceivable to her that staff members weren't checking the steam room every hour or so.

"I just don't want this to ever, ever happen again to anybody," said a sobbing Wasinger.

Belich said staff members should have been making rounds at least every hour.

"It would have made a difference, she might still be here," she said.

A 24 Hour Fitness manager told investigators, "Their employees do hourly 'team cleans' of the club, but that would not include the women's locker room area unless a female employee was working. At the end of the night, the closing employee was supposed to walk the entire club to be sure everyone exited. That obviously was not done."

Wasinger said she was shocked 24 Hour Fitness didn't immediately close the club when deputies and medics arrived on scene.

"Traumatic. They should've shut it down right then and there when they found the body," she said.

Only when she complained to deputies did she say the club temporarily closed.

KDVR asked 24 Hour Fitness if it has changed any of its policies in light of Belich's death and if any employees were disciplined or terminated for failing to find her in a timely manner.

In a statement, the California-based company said, "We are saddened that in March, a member of our 24 Hour Fitness Southwest Denver Sport location, on 8966 West Bowles Avenue, Denver, passed away while at the club. We continually review our club protocols to ensure the safety and security of our members and to assure that everyone who visits a 24 Hour Fitness club has a positive experience. For privacy reasons, we don't discuss staff or member information."

The Jefferson County coroner ruled the death an accident. Fitness clubs are not regulated so 24 Hour Fitness faces no disciplinary action from any state agency. Belich's surviving relatives have retained an attorney and are considering a civil lawsuit.