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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Riverfront skating ribbon death is first on city-owned ice in Spokane

Skaters take to the ice during the grand opening of the Riverfront Park skating ribbon on Dec. 8, 2017, in downtown Spokane, Wash. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)
Skaters take to the ice during the grand opening of the Riverfront Park skating ribbon on Dec. 8, 2017, in downtown Spokane, Wash. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)
By Kip Hill and Jonathan Glover The Spokesman-Review

City lawmakers called Sunday’s death from an injury sustained on the Riverfront Park ice ribbon, believed to be the first rink-related fatality on city property, a tragedy and said they were waiting to learn more information.

“I think everyone’s kind of in shock and a daze,” said Spokane City Councilman Mike Fagan, who serves as the panel’s liaison to the autonomous Park Board.

Lorae Sims, 63, died this weekend after falling and striking her head on the ice Friday afternoon. City officials are still investigating the incident. The new facility provided helmets at no cost to skaters beginning this past weekend. Helmets are currently “highly recommended” according to a warning notice posted on the ice, and the skating ribbon remains open as the investigation into the death continues.

According to a search of The Spokesman-Review archives, there have been no other deaths reported as a result of skating on city-owned ice. The Ice Palace, a conventional ice rink that was replaced by the new $10 million structure, opened in November 1977.

City Council President Ben Stuckart said lawmakers were briefed on the incident by city staff on Monday and referred questions to the city’s communications team. He said he supported keeping the ice open during the investigation, while other council members said they were waiting for the review of the incident.

Brian Coddington, a spokesman for the mayor’s office, said at a Monday news conference that the fall occurred on a straightaway on the ribbon’s surface and that no other skaters were around.

The ribbon features sloped changes in elevation, a feature that is used in other similar attractions throughout the country, said Jim Maland, an architect with the firm Stantec that oversaw design of the ribbon.

Maland is credited with developing the concept of a modern ice ribbon, first seen in a 14-foot-wide path through Elkhart, Indiana’s RiverWalk Commons park. That feature opened in 2007.

Skaters taking the ice in Chicago’s Maggie Daley Park – on a quarter-mile-long track also designed by Stantec – also navigate elevation changes. No deaths have been reported since that ribbon opened in 2014, according to a spokesman from the Chicago Park District. It sees an average of 800 skaters a day, or about 85,000 to 100,000 skaters annually.

As of 5 p.m. Monday, there had been 53 injuries reported on Spokane’s ice, according to Coddington. The ribbon attracted more than 33,000 skaters in its first month of operation after opening Dec. 9, the city has previously reported.

Other city council members said Monday they hadn’t received many inquiries from constituents about the incident at the ribbon and praised city officials for providing the helmets to skaters.

“We’re relying on the Park Board, and park staff, in terms of safety,” said City Councilwoman Candace Mumm.

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