March 23, 2011 in City

Looking for signs of safety

By The Spokesman-Review
 
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“It’s pretty sad because this is such a beautiful place,” said Linda Fournier, as she walked with her husband, Moe, at Honeysuckle Beach on Friday.
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For many people, Honeysuckle Beach in Hayden is an oasis where they can swim, fish, feed the ducks and enjoy the scenery.

But the small beach has a big dark side: At least 12 people have died at the park since 1995 after driving off the boat ramp and plunging into the lake, according to news files.

Some say the city has already done enough to prevent fatalities, but many neighbors contend more needs to be done.

“Our hearts go out to them – it’s a very tragic thing,” said Hayden City Administrator Stefan Chatwin, referring to the families of those who died. “We’ve made several mitigations there to make it more difficult to access that boat ramp from the road. It’s not like you’re driving down the street and you hit the water.”

Kootenai County Sheriff’s Department Maj. Ben Wolfinger said the city has taken sufficient steps to prevent accidents at the boat launch with the addition of the signs and barriers. “I think it’s safe to say (with) almost everyone who has driven into the lake there, alcohol has been a factor,” he said. “I think it becomes an issue of personal responsibility.”

In the most recent case, 34-year-old Jennifer M. Gonzalez of Hayden crashed into the lake late on March 17. The Kootenai County Sheriff’s Department Dive Rescue Team pulled her from the vehicle, which was about 100 feet from the shore in 10 to 12 feet of water, but it was too late to revive her.

Authorities believe alcohol was a factor in the crash.

On March 14, two Coeur d’Alene teenagers were joyriding in their mother’s car when they drove it down the boat launch into Hayden Lake. The teens escaped the submerged car and survived the crash.

For Diane Moore, who has lived near the boat launch for more than 14 years, it’s a scene that’s all too common.

Moore woke up one Christmas morning to find police pulling a body from the lake, she said. Shaken, she pulled the drapes closed and tried to get on with the celebration.

“It’s kind of upsetting,” she said.

Moore, who petitioned several years ago to have a gate installed, said the city’s efforts to slow drivers and direct them away from the boat ramp are ineffective.

But city officials have no plans to put up a gate or make any more changes to the area.

It was once a straight shot down the road to the boat ramp, but over time, the city installed signs and concrete islands in the road to prevent accidents, Chatwin, the city administrator, said.

Approaching the beach, the speed limit drops first to 25 mph, and then to 15 mph, then to 5 mph. Drivers pass several warning signs and stop signs. They are directed to turn left and must drive through a parking lot and around to the boat ramp.

To end up in the lake, a driver would have to drive the wrong way down a one-way road and around a concrete island.

“It is quite clear what you’re supposed to do,” Chatwin said. “It’s pretty hard to miss the stop signs. It’s pretty hard to miss the ‘do not enter’ signs.”

If safety issues did exist, the sheriff’s department would work with the city to identify and fix them, Wolfinger said.

“We’re in pretty much constant contact with city officials there,” he said. “We have a great working relationship there.”

Linda Fournier, who visits the park nearly every day, echoed Wolfinger’s belief that drivers need to be more responsible, and fears the addition of a gate would prevent people from accessing the park.

“It’s really a little bit of paradise,” she said. “When these things happen, it kind of puts a gray cloud over the pleasure people get from fishing, swimming and boating there.”

“We need to be able to enjoy it.”

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