A 22-year-old man from Spokane died on Saturday after hitting a rock while cliff jumping at a popular site called The Cove at Fisk State Park property in Nine Mile Falls.
Dominic Ortiz Bonilla jumped off a cliff about 60 feet high and fell onto rocks below in Long Lake, said Greg Anderson, assistant chief of emergency for Spokane County Fire District 9. Bonilla hit his head and was airlifted to Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center, where he died Saturday.
His death was ruled an accident by the Spokane County Medical Examiner’s Office on Tuesday.
Fisk State Park is a roughly 475-acre property owned by Washington State Parks and Recreation. It lines Long Lake, which is part of the Spokane River in northern Spokane County. The spot has cliffs of varying heights, and cliff jumping results in a number of injuries every year, mostly broken bones, Anderson said. He had never seen a fatal accident there, he said.
“A lot of jumping goes on out there in the summer,” he said.
Anderson said swimmers have to jump to clear rocks directly underneath the cliff, but Bonilla didn’t jump far enough.
“You have to launch yourself quite a way,” he said. “Those are really dangerous rocks.”
After Bonilla landed on the rocks, three off-duty firefighters in a boat and two personal watercraft nearby heard screaming and responded. They found some swimmers holding Bonilla up in the water, Anderson said. The firefighters took him to a spot where they could treat him and get an airlift to the hospital.
“It’s just a tragic event,” he said.
Bonilla studied at Spokane Falls Community College and graduated from Cheney High School.
In the three years that Diana Dupuis has worked as the Inland Northwest area manager for Washington State Parks, she said she’s never heard of any injuries at The Cove.
“We haven’t had a history of problems that would warrant parks to manage it a different way,” she said. “This hasn’t been a high-risk area.”
Dupuis said that Fisk State Park property is not an extensive day-use area and is not regularly staffed, but the spot is popular. The state installed a bathroom, paved the road and put in 38 parking spots within the past few years to keep up with the summer crowds.
She said that The Cove has no signs to warn people of the dangers of cliff jumping, but it will be considered after the death.
“It’s a possibility that we’d look at different ways to inform the public of risks,” she said.
Washington has no specific laws for cliff jumping, she said.
Erin Barrington witnessed the accident, she wrote in a message to The Spokesman-Review. She remembers Bonilla had jumped into a dangerous part of the water near rocks.
“He was aiming towards the narrow part of the inlet, which is surrounded by other cliffs,” she wrote. “The bottom of the cliffs where the water is the smallest spot to land.”
Barrington remembers seeing Bonilla “swan diving” and hitting the shallow part of the water after barely missing a cliff edge. He submerged and didn’t come up, but swimmers dove down, grabbed him and pulled him to the surface.
Barrington tried to call 911, but she didn’t have cellphone service, she wrote.
The off-duty firefighters who responded to the accident were Randy Marler and Trevor Richards of the Spokane Fire Department and Spokane County Fire District 9 firefighter Taylor Kreutz.
“They acted immediately, without a second thought, and made every effort to save the young man’s life,” said Spokane Fire Chief Brian Schaeffer. “We are exceptionally proud of all three firefighters, and their actions cannot be overstated.”
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