January 3, 2012 in City

Peace for teen, but not for family

Friend faces charges in 18-year-old’s river death
By The Spokesman-Review
 
Jesse Tinsley photo

Rebecca Allen, shown at home Dec. 22, grieves the loss of her 18-year-old son, Alex, shown in a photo on the computer monitor at right. Alex drowned in the Spokane River in July after falling off the Post Street Bridge.
(Full-size photo)(All photos)

When Alexander Keyes Allen celebrated his 18th birthday last April, no one thought he would stay that age forever.

The Spokane native was excited to embark on his journey through adulthood, so excited that he marked the occasion with a haircut. His family says he hoped his new clean-cut look would make him more attractive to potential employers. After all, he was 18. Time to grow up. Time to start thinking seriously.

But his journey was cut short one July night as he partied with friends in Riverfront Park. Alex was never seen alive again. Police pulled his body from the Spokane River eight days later.

A service program from his funeral includes a phrase that his family has deemed his mantra: Forever 18. Forever loved. Forever at peace.

But Alex’s family has found no peace. They’re struggling to cope with his death and find new meaning in lives they say were dedicated to Alex and helping him grow up. They’re also haunted by the circumstances surrounding his death, and the concept of justice, which they say has been elusive since Alex’s body was pulled from the river July 26.

Though police said at the time no foul play was suspected, they now believe Alex didn’t end up in the river on his own. He and another teen were horsing around on the bridge when Alex fell. No one called for help.

The 17-year-old boy who was with Alex when he fell into the river is to be arraigned today in Spokane County Juvenile Court on three misdemeanor charges, including failure to summon assistance. Prosecutors say he’s the first person charged in Spokane County under the law, which has been in place since 2005. The boy also is charged with reckless endangerment and lying to investigators.

The Spokesman-Review is not identifying him because he is charged as a juvenile.

Alex’s family members say the charges provide little comfort.

“When it leads to death, how can it just be a misdemeanor?” asked Brandy Irizarry, who is such a close family friend that Alex considered her his aunt.

“If he had just called 911, Alex would have at least had a chance,” she said.

Fun turns fatal

Alex Allen spent his final days at his grandparents’ house, helping his grandfather remodel the home. It was how he earned money – he was always helping with maintenance, landscaping or construction. His father, with whom he was close, dropped him off at a friend’s home in the early evening on July 18. It was a Saturday, and Alex and the boy were looking to have fun.

When Alex didn’t return home, his family questioned the friend. Where’s Alex? Where did you last see him? Did something happen? The boy’s answers changed. He couldn’t remember. No, actually, he left Alex here. Wait, maybe it was there.

Alex’s family grew desperate. His mother, aunt and grandmother formed their own search party, scouring under bridges and questioning the street kids who hang out downtown. Had they seen Alex? One boy was confident Alex had drowned, said his mother, Rebecca Allen, days before kayakers spotted a body in the river that was later identified as Alex.

But police were slow to respond. They just kept telling me “he’s 18,” Allen recalls. After all, police say, teenagers sometimes leave home, especially in the summer.

His family continued to hold out hope, but they knew his friend knew more than he was saying. At one point, Alex’s grandmother persuaded the boy to get in her car so she could drive him to where he’d last seen Alex.

“He took her on this stupid wild goose chase,” Irizarry said. “We knew he was lying. Absolutely.”

On July 26, police recovered Alex’s body from the river near the Sans Souci trailer park at 3231 W. Boone Ave., about a mile downstream from where he’d fallen.

The boy told detectives the next day that he and Alex drank Four Loko alcoholic beverages at his home, at Liberty Park, then in the downtown area before they separated on Post Street between Main and Riverside avenues. He told Spokane police Detective Jan Pogachar that was the last time he saw Alex.

But he left Pogachar a message two days later saying “he wanted to tell me what really happened,” Pogachar wrote in court documents. The boy told Pogachar he and Alex were walking on a ledge of the Post Street Bridge when he jumped down and looked back to see Alex falling into the river. The boy said he didn’t call for help because of past problems with police.

“He said he walked home and figured that Alexander would make it out and go home,” Pogachar wrote. “He called Alexander’s home the next day but he was not there.”

But that still wasn’t the whole story. Police contacted the boy at his mother’s home three weeks later, where they say he admitted he and Alex weren’t just walking on the ledge of the bridge – they were slap-boxing. And he hadn’t jumped off the ledge before Alex fell – Alex fell after the boy smacked him, he told police.

The boy said he didn’t call for help, nor did he tell his mother or anyone else what happened after he went home. But he said he never meant for Alex to end up in the river, and he certainly never pushed him or struck him out of anger, according to court documents.

Alex’s family isn’t so sure.

Family struggles to find justice

Rebecca Allen received a letter from the boy in which he talked about how Alex’s death affected him. He also left an early morning message on her answering machine describing a haunting dream he’d had involving Alex.

But, Allen said, “He’s never apologized or said it was an accident.”

The Allen family has held out hope that witnesses would come forward and tell police what they saw at the bridge that night, but it hasn’t happened.

“A lot of them still can’t even fathom that Alex is gone,” Irizarry said.

Deputy Prosecutor William Reeves said he understands concerns over the misdemeanor charges, when the alleged actions resulted in death. Reeves said he “kind of scratched my head, too” at the lack of a felony option for failing to summon assistance, but “that would be a matter for the Legislature to work on.”

“I take the statutes as I find them,” he said.

Reeves called the statute “essentially the Good Samaritan law.” The law was created by the Washington Legislature in 2005, making it a crime for a person not to summon assistance if he or she witnesses a crime that resulted in substantial injury and could have reasonably called for help. The charges carry up to 30 days in juvenile detention, 12 months probation and 150 hours of community service. The sentences can be applied consecutively for each crime.

Meanwhile, the pain of the loss of Alex is felt in the emptiness of his mother’s home, and in the depression that can encompass everyday activities. Alex, who would have finished at Havermale High School this year, often accompanied his father to home remodeling trade shows as part of his father’s work for Lilac City Decorators. Kenneth Allen went alone this year for the first time in years.

Rebecca Allen stays in touch with her son’s friends, including a girl with whom he’d fallen in love in the months before his death.

And they keep their photos close – including the images of his momentous haircut to mark his 18th birthday.

“Alex was ready,” Irizarry said. “He was ready to go out in the world.”

And he’ll stay that way forever in the memories of his family. Forever 18.

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