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Business Student Dies a Week After Rescue From Pool Bottom

Michael Johnson, a first-year MBA student in UC Irvine’s Paul Merage School of Business, died on April 23 after being taken off life support at the Stanford University Medical Center. Johnson was in a coma for six days after being pulled from the bottom of Stanford’s Avery Pool following a water polo match that was a part the Stanford’s Challenge for Charity fundraiser. Johnson was 34.
Sponsored by Stanford’s Graduate School of Business, the annual event, held April 15 to 17, was comprised of a series of sporting events intended to raise money for charitable organizations by bringing together business students from across the West Coast for friendly competition.
According to a Stanford news release, swimmers found Johnson at the bottom of the Avery Pool at 10:13 a.m. on April 17, during an inner tube water polo match. When he was taken out of the pool, Johnson still had a pulse, and paramedics rushed him to the medical center, where he remained in critical condition until April 23. Johnson was surrounded by family and friends when he was in the Stanford Medical Center.
Circumstances surrounding Johnson’s death have yet to be determined, and investigators are unclear as to how long Johnson was underwater. Investigators are still trying to find out how he ended up in the bottom of the pool, and are treating the case as a possible drowning.
Following the incident, the rest of the fundraising event was cancelled.
UCI affiliates are devastated by Johnson’s death. Johnson was set to be the next president of the Student Marketing Association, and was already a popular classmate. He was well-known and well-respected by students, faculty, alumni, friends, family and staff.
‘The loss of Michael will be felt by many people who were touched by his strong spirit, tremendous enthusiasm, intelligence and kindness,’ said Andrew Policano, dean of the Paul Merage School of Business. ‘This is a very difficult time for all of us. Michael’s family, as well as the Merage and Stanford business school communities, continue to have my deepest sympathies.’
Johnson grew up in Oregon and Colorado, but was a Burlingame, Calif. native. Before arriving at UCI, he was the general manager for Lime Rock Park in Connecticut, which is New England’s largest and oldest auto racing venue, and managing director of the Skip Barber Racing School in Monterey, Calif.
‘Michael’s influence on people was very clear. He was a person that everyone wanted to get to know … to be associated with,’ said David Lim, director of marketing and communication for the Paul Merage School of Business.
Although schooled mainly in the Midwest and East Coast, Johnson obtained his bachelor’s degree in political science from UC Santa Barbara. His dream was to promote motor sports in North America and increase international racing events in the United States by starting his own sports event management and promotional company.
‘It is going to be hard to replace him,’ said first-year MBA student Ray Putt. ‘He was somebody who would speak up in class and whose opinion was really valued.’
In addition, Johnson proved to be an established athlete, and was captain of the U.S. Ice Karting Team. Johnson led the team to St. Petersburg, Russia for the world championships in 1999 and 2000.
UCI affiliates gathered to honor Johnson in a prayer and support vigil at the UCI Interfaith Center last week. A memorial for Johnson will be held at 4 p.m. on May 5 at Pelennor Field.
Patrick Lee, a first-year MBA student and friend, reflected on his friendship with Johnson.
‘We started to forge a great friendship that was cut short,’ Lee said. ‘I am always going to remember him as selfless, one of those people who genuinely cares about how you are doing and how he can help out. Michael was always in a great mood and someone whose positivity rubbed off on everybody.’