OPEN LETTER: A grandmother says ‘thank you,’ and wonders about safety, after 4-year-old’s Alki seawall fall

That’s 4-year-old Aaron, photographed before a fall off the Alki seawall left him badly hurt. His grandmother Teri has written an open letter both to say thanks to the strangers who helped, and to voice concerns about safety:

On Tuesday, April 7th, at approximately 5:30 pm, my husband David, my 4-year old grandson Aaron and I were riding bikes along the 1300 block of Alki Avenue. We were in the bike lane, with Aaron following David, and I was bringing up the rear so I could keep a watchful eye on Aaron. Part way through the ride, Aaron apparently decided he wanted to ride along the path on the other side of the sidewalk and veered off in that direction. Despite my calls for him to stop, Aaron continued on toward the path and the unprotected bulkhead. He managed to stop his bike before it went over the edge, but he went flying over the handlebars and over the edge of the bulkhead, landing face first on the boulders 6-8 feet below street level.

As I scrambled off my bike and ran, horrified, toward where I had just seen Aaron flying over the wall, passersby had already leapt into action. By the time I got to the edge, there were people down on the rocks lifting the very terrified Aaron up to safety. Others standing around also clamored to help, and one woman was an absolute angel. She sat with Aaron and kept him talking, focusing on calming him down while we waited for the 911 response team that was summoned by still others. I was in a state of shock at the time and can’t tell you enough how grateful I am to all of these people who stepped up to help us.

Fortunately, Aaron was properly outfitted with a Bern bike helmet at the time of his accident. Without it, he would not be with us today. This helmet literally saved his life. It was cracked and dented as a result of the fall, clearly showing us where significant brain damage was avoided. I am now a staunch bike-helmet advocate! I see so many children out riding bikes with helmets that are ill-fitting and barely more than a styrofoam hat in the shape of a shark, unicorn, or kitty and wonder whether one of these helmets would have stopped the significant damage that was avoided by wearing the well-fitting, hard-shell Bern helmet. Our children and grandchildren are irreplaceable, so only the best in protection is good enough for them.

Aaron spent just under 4 days at Harborview, and was helped by many fine, caring doctors and nurses both in the Emergency Room and PICU. Our eternal gratitude goes out to them as well.

At Harborview, we learned that Aaron had fractured his skull. He also had several fractures around both eye orbitals, multiple deep nose fractures, and his upper right jaw was fractured as well. Right now he is back home, and back to playing with his trains and cars, colors and crafts as he continues to heal. The doctors are waiting for the significant eye swelling to subside before they can determine whether he is in need of surgery to repair some of the fractures as there is the possibility that they may be impinging facial nerves and eye muscles. Right now we call him our little puffer fish!

Since the accident, we have heard that there have been several other incidents along the unprotected stretch that runs around Alki Avenue and drops off to large boulders. I walk that path several afternoons a week, and with the warmer weather I am seeing more and more children along the way either walking, running, or riding scooters and bikes. Knowing how the younger ones can rapidly dart away and put themselves in danger, I have to wonder what the City of Seattle can do to make this a safer place for us all. We came so close to losing a precious 4 year old that day. God forbid another child, or even an adult, is lost forever due to a slip or fall and lack of fencing along this area.

We don’t know who any of the people are who helped us on the beach last Tuesday, but we really want to extend our heartfelt gratitude to them for them being there and stepping up to help. I don’t know what we would have done without their help! We are blessed to live in a community with so many caring people.

Teri says they *do* know some of Aaron’s rescuers – the Seattle Fire Department personnel – and that they plan to visit those fire stations soon (the log from Tuesday shows units from 3 stations) to say thanks in person.

53 Replies to "OPEN LETTER: A grandmother says 'thank you,' and wonders about safety, after 4-year-old's Alki seawall fall"

  • alki resident April 11, 2015 (9:58 pm)

    Poor guy, what a horrible experience. I hope he makes a full recovery. Thanks for the helmet info. Will look into it.

  • AJP April 11, 2015 (10:42 pm)

    That must have been terrifying. Warm thoughts for a speedy recovery and comfort to grandma and grandpa!

  • evergreen April 11, 2015 (10:57 pm)

    How frightening for this grandmother! Thank you for sharing this info, we will remember to think safety while biking or near this seawall. I wish your grandchild a full recovery!

  • Tim Coleman April 11, 2015 (11:27 pm)

    Very well said.

  • NWmama April 11, 2015 (11:28 pm)

    OMG. I’m so thankful he’s going to be okay! This is a serious call to action for the parks department! Not just a “thanks, I’ll
    Watch my kids in this area” (per above commenters). This is an area that attracts many from out of area who wouldn’t know to be extra safe- i can see how this could happen, as this grandmother describes, as an interest or whym of a youngster. This needs attention ASAP. I’m hoping this grandmother can take the lead with her experience and petition the city for improvements. I’m in.

  • Mike April 11, 2015 (11:54 pm)

    Glad to hear he’s recovering and was wearing his helmet. I’m a staunch advocate of helmets, one saved my life when I crashed mountain biking. The lady that sat with him until aid arrived probably saved his life. For anyone that comes upon an individual that’s had a possible concussion, do not let them pass out and fall asleep, it can be deadly. She did the right thing, calming him down and talking to him.
    More often than not, I see kids not wearing their helmet correctly (and many times adults too). For those looking at getting a Bern helmet, here’s their fitting how-to You need to have it fitted correctly and sitting on your noggin correctly for it to work correctly.
    I hope this boy has a full recovery and wish him the best.

  • Doug Maroney April 12, 2015 (5:08 am)

    The other thing that may have saved this boy and his family all the heart ache is the railing the city was going to put up along that bulk head. Unfortunately there some in this community that are opposed to the small safety measure that could have prevented this. The city needs to step up and do the right thing. Hopefully it won’t take a death or lawsuit before that happens. In construction we are not allowed to work with more than a four foot fall. Why would you leave an eight foot fall onto a pile of large rocks open to children?

  • beach walker April 12, 2015 (8:15 am)

    The Alki Trail was installed several years ago, and my memory is a bit rusty on this, but as I recall, the original idea was to build the sidewalk close to the bulkhead and put up a railing so that people wouldn’t fall over the edge. There was a very effective campaign of “Don’t fence me in” and eventually the idea was dropped and the sidewalk was built several feet away. People made their own little trails next to the bulkhead with their feet. It’s only natural when you go to the beach to want to be next to the water.

  • sophista-tiki April 12, 2015 (8:35 am)

    If this does actually fall under the parks dept responsibility don’t forget that they are chronically dysfunctional with decades long record of internal mismanagement. If the community REALLY wants something done about this. Then a GIGANTIC PISSY STNK OF OUTRAGE thats a potential embarrassment to them is the route thats going to get action.

  • amy kramer hawks April 12, 2015 (8:50 am)

    Please pass on my contact info to this grandma. I have a specialty in MLD which could help bring down his swelling faster. Not painful. Very affective. Happy to help.

  • Peggy April 12, 2015 (9:03 am)

    I agree this was a bad accident. I also believe we cannot fence off the world to prevent every accident and human error..
    A low split rail style or small log fence similar to the one on the bluff trail in Lincon park might be appropriate . Low enough to prevent stepping off the edge but not intruding into the view.
    It is not just the issue of a fence, but what kind of fence.
    I don’t know just where this accident happened but most of the bike lane along this section of trail is separated from the side walk and the dirt pathway by a curb. The side walk is designated for pedestrians.

  • Smitty April 12, 2015 (9:47 am)

    Should they move the bike path to the outside (farthest away from the seawall) position? Maybe it would be better if the walking path was closest to the danger – or alternatively – made the “inside path “walk/run” only?

  • trickycoolj April 12, 2015 (9:49 am)

    Just make sure your helmets are certified. They all protect equally well when certified. Hope the little guy recovers soon. It’s very scary to help someone and realize the helmet is cracked even from much lesser falls.

  • blanchus April 12, 2015 (9:57 am)

    A quick recovery to all involved. But I do hope it doesn’t end in lawsuit and a sea wall closure for the rest of us.

  • Kipseawa April 12, 2015 (10:02 am)

    I’m sorry to her about your grandsons accident. However The Seawall is not to blame.
    Children and adults do things that unfortunate cause them harm from time to time. The child hopefully will know not to bike too close to the wall next time.
    We touch fire, we know fire is bad… This is all parting the learning process. You can’t wall off every potentially unsafe area because one person gets injured.
    Take Rattlesnake ledge for instance. Every summer people fall from the edges to an awful end. Most of those people are doing something reckless and have no business or respect for being up on that peak. Should we cage up the ledge so that it becomes more safe?? No- we just need to find a way to keep the reckless people out. Signs don’t apparently work.
    Anyway fences don’t help either… Just makes beautiful areas ugly. I hope that the little boy feels better soon & is up riding bikes with grandma in no time.

  • Mike April 12, 2015 (10:03 am)

    amy kramer hawks, you might want to clarify what you mean and what your credentials are prior to marketing medical treatments to a child. There are various meanings of MLD in the medical world, one being Minimum Lethal Dose… pretty sure that’s not what you’re going for.

  • Mary S April 12, 2015 (10:20 am)

    Have there been other incidents like this? I’ve lived here for eight years and this is the first one I’ve ever heard of. This is terrible and I hope the little guy is better soon, but this could just as easily happened the other way had he veered into car traffic instead, and walling off streets probably isn’t the answer there, either. It sounds like Grandma and Grandpa were doing everything they could to keep him safe — kids sometimes will do things despite all best efforts. Hope he feels better soon.

  • beach walker April 12, 2015 (10:46 am)

    The fence, or railing, was designed to be unobtrusive and would have been only 3 1/2 inches tall, the minimum required. Had it been built, this boy would not have had to spend four days at Harborview.

  • westseattledood April 12, 2015 (10:53 am)

    If it is anecdotes you seek, I have one though it is not a human loved one who had no barrier to protect him.

    Years ago, my 95-pound, well-trained dog and I were walking on that dirt path along the wall where there is no fence. The dog was on a six-foot leash. The tide was high but still about two feet below the top of the bulkhead. The stairs to the beach south of us were covered in seawater.

    I watched as my dog, a bit ahead of me on that leash, mis-stepped and fell off the wall plunging sideways into the water. The good news is the dog was a strong swimmer. The bad news is he had no way to get back up onto the path. It was too high. And he started to panic and flail. I realized I had to go in the water and took off my shoes and jacket and dropped my pack while still holding his leash, myself extended out over the wall from a crouched position.

    The stairs were far to the south so I planned on swimming down that direction. But before I could get in, out of nowhere two young men ran and jumped in the water and grabbed him. It was amazing. They supported the dog and guided him down the bulkhead to the stairs.

    I never got their names, but they were angels to me. I could have saved my dog myself, but these guys stepped up out of nowhere and helped me.

    The dog is now 14 and we are still walking the Alki path. But I have not allowed him on the wall since that day.

    That’s my anecdote. If dog’s count.

  • JTB April 12, 2015 (10:58 am)

    Mike, if you’re familiar with various meaning of MLD in the medical world then you’re probably aware that AKH is referring to Manual Lymphatic Drainage. It has some proven applications in a areas of areas and equivocal results in others.

    For an injury like this youngster sustained, I wouldn’t assume MLD would be appropriate or effective. My sense is if the swelling is problematic for medical treatment, the doctors have some other tools available. I know of one internationally respected cosmetic surgeon who utilizes MLD on occasion for some of his patient recovering from a face lift. But it’s a pretty subtle effect.

  • Kelly April 12, 2015 (10:59 am)

    i’m so sorry to read this — and very glad that it wasn’t worse. It goes without saying, but make sure Aaron gets a new helmet. They are done after one significant crash.

  • amy kramer hawks April 12, 2015 (11:03 am)

    Mld, manual lymphatic drainage. Not Advertising. Offering help.

  • Mel April 12, 2015 (11:12 am)

    The main problem appears to have been putting a kids’ bike path so close to the seawall.
    I would certainly join a group petitioning to have the path realigned to prevent kids riding close to natural hazards. Maybe a special children’s’ path on the opposite side of the road where it’s much less congested with people, other wheels and the natural hazards that come with a bayside area?

  • WS since '66 April 12, 2015 (11:30 am)

    Someone went over the seawall many years ago. The city wanted to build a fence like the one at the Duwamish Head. It was fought by many of us who enjoy the view and walk without the intrusive and restrictive fencing. This unfortunate incident could have been avoided. For years people have been walking, biking, and roller blading, along Alki without incident. Please use common sense to avoid going over the edge and not demand a fence to ruin it for the hundreds of thousands of people who have enjoyed it without incident.

  • fiz April 12, 2015 (12:00 pm)

    I remember the proposed railing to be similar to the three footer on the Beach Drive side of the Point at Constellation Park. That was what people objected to, not a 3.5 inch rail.

  • AceMotel April 12, 2015 (12:05 pm)

    There are also incidents of cars coming off the street and hitting pedestrians, so do we construct a fence between the street and the sidewalk? The street is closer to the walkway than the bulkhead is. A child could easily run out into the street. The thing is, you can’t protect from all risks. Just a couple years ago, the fence between the bulkhead/rip rap and the park was removed at Madison Park – in natural settings, the tendency is not to fence. I hope Aaron feels much better soon.

  • Parentof4 April 12, 2015 (1:34 pm)

    My opinion is that four-year-olds are not safe on bicycles, regardless of the quality of the helmet or the watchful eye of the grandparents.

  • beach walker April 12, 2015 (1:59 pm)

    Fiz, sorry. I don’t know where my brain was. Of course it was 3 1/2 feet, not inches. Even so, the City would not allow the sidewalk to be built that close to the edge without a barrier.

  • flimflam April 12, 2015 (2:09 pm)

    I wish the young fella well, and am sure it was very scary for everyone involved, but one incident doesn’t warrant an ugly fence. just my opinion.

  • I. Ponder April 12, 2015 (5:41 pm)

    Mel wrote “The main problem appears to have been putting a kids’ bike path so close to the seawall.”

    Please correct me if I’m wrong but I believe the bike path is not next to the seawall. The walking path is next to the seawall and the wheels path is on the street side. The walking paths and wheels paths are separated by a grassy median. It is not a kids’ bike path. It is a wheels path for everyone with wheels of any kind (rollerblades, strollers, bicycles, skateboards). That said, it is misused by many walkers. There is a grassy median between the bike path and the street.

    While it is sad that a child was badly injured, sometimes real accidents happen. There are numerous opportunities for children to be injured and while sometimes preventable, sometimes not.

  • Shane April 12, 2015 (6:22 pm)

    I came upon this accident just as SFD was pulling up. I was heartbroken later when I rode by and the young man was on a back board. I’m sorry his injuries were so severe but am happy that he is home and appears to be on te mend. There were many people who stopped to help. It was great to see such an effort.

  • 62nd SW April 12, 2015 (6:40 pm)

    I’m hoping Parentof4 didn’t intend to sound like s/he was actually blaming the child’s caregivers for allowing him to ride a bicycle . . . that would be a pretty cruel judgment on a family that is undoubtedly beating themselves up already. Just in case that actually is what s/he meant, I guess I would just note that I am on my way out the door for a bike ride to the beach with my four year old. So.

  • Parentof4 April 12, 2015 (6:44 pm)

    That’s correct, I. Ponder, except that there is a grassy strip between the bike trail and the sidewalk. Looking at Google maps, the bike trail appears to be set back at least 16 feet from the seawall. It goes bike trail, 4-feet of grass, 4-feet of sidewalk, then another 8 feet of grass, then the seawall.

  • Parentof4 April 12, 2015 (6:55 pm)

    I don’t think everything needs blame. I’m not blaming. Accidents happen, sometimes, and I am sad to hear of this accident.

    I’m also not blaming the accident on the absence of a fence 16 feet from the bike path. Maybe the site could be made more safe by adding vegetation so the so-called “dirt path” can re-grow grass and not be as inviting?
    I do think that our streets and bike lanes are generally designed for older riders. I don’t expect a 4-year-old do have a mature appreciation for stopping distances, etc.

  • Alki Walker April 12, 2015 (7:55 pm)

    The accident happened at a section where the bike and walking paths meet at the anchor park, there is no divider between the two paths. It is a small area where it is easier for the little guy to veer off into the grass and off the seawall.

    Accidents happen, you can’t protect everyone from everything.

    The idea of the letter was to thank all who helped and to bring attention to an area to be more cautious.

  • Annie April 12, 2015 (9:07 pm)

    Teri, I was honored to be there with you and Aaron.
    To whom it may concern, please give my information to Teri, I would love to keep in touch with her.
    With speedy recovery to Aaron and love to you all,

  • YY in Westwood April 12, 2015 (10:13 pm)


    First of all, I want to let you know I am happy to hear your grandson is on the road to recovery. However, it is hard to read comments like accidents happen or your grandson was just being a 4 year old. I had a similar experience in May’2008. And it happened with my 74 year old father. And we were NOT on bikes! My father had come to Seattle to celebrate his granddaughter’s 5th birthday. His original plan was to be here for only about 5 days. One evening, we decided to do a family dinner at Alki. After dinner, we decided to take a walk just along the water. We were just south of the Alki Bath House. The tide was out so my husband and daughter went down to the beach. I stayed with my father up on the walk way. We were standing by the edge enjoying the view. My father has a bad leg and with a slight limp from an old car accident injury. He took a misstep and lost his footing. He wound up falling on the lip of the wall and then rolling off the wall towards the water. He dropped about 6-7 feet and landed on the sand below. We called an ambulance and rushed him to Swedish. He wound up breaking his hip and having surgery to replace it. He was able to get back home in FL after 4 or 5 weeks. All I can say is if there was a railing in front of him, he could have grabbed it. Instead there wasn’t. I reached out and tried to grab him. I think if I was successfully, I probably would have gone over with him. I was grateful the tide was out because he could have drowned if he went in. We figured he broke his hip on the lip of the wall as oppose to when he landed in the sand. The hip side that landed in the sand was fine. Even before this incident, I thought there should be rail along the water. I see so many little kids running or riding their bikes close to the edge.

  • YY in Westwood April 12, 2015 (10:20 pm)

    …And just on a side note: Why does Charles Richey Sr Viewpoint (..thats just south of the lighthouse on Beach Drive) get a railing and parts of Alki, where it gets more foot traffic, does not? Makes no sense to me.

  • I. Ponder April 12, 2015 (10:35 pm)

    First, I wish the little boy a speedy and full recovery. This was a horrible accident. I am upset by comments like YY’s indicating that accidents like this and the one her grandfather had are the fault of poor engineering or a failure to build safety infrastructure. There are many daily hazards. Most involve driving in cars or crossing streets. If only the grandfather hadn’t been in that car accident he wouldn’t have had the limp that caused the imbalance. In Hong Kong there were railings separating the sidewalks from the streets. Should we have railings everywhere? Maybe.

  • HelenK April 12, 2015 (11:24 pm)

    “Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.” Just say “No” to those that would attempt to eliminate every possible safety issue that the world presents.

    With that said, glad that Aaron is doing well.

  • Parentof4 April 13, 2015 (4:53 am)

    YY – Duwamish Head and Charles Richey Viewpoint have railings where the walkway is immediately adjacent to to seawall. The miles of Alki where the walkway is not at the edge does not have railings.

  • Evergreen April 13, 2015 (7:47 am)

    This is a very side comment, but wanted to address the MLD. Many docs are unaware of this therapy and specialists are few and far between. We rely on them a great deal in the field of head and neck cancer. Lymphedema can cause pain and disfigurement, and therapy can make a dramatic difference. In fact, earlier intervetion leads to better long-term outcomes. A conversation between this family and their doctor may be warranted, certainly doesn’t hurt to raise the topic.

  • Scott C April 13, 2015 (8:05 am)

    As the overprotective father of four, I completely understand the heartbreak of seeing a little one get hurt (I think I’m up to 6 ER visits, including 3 broken bones). That being said, I agree with all those above who note that you can’t protect kids from every danger. I’m a bike rider, and go through Alki on a regular basis. Of much greater concern than the seawall is parents who don’t keep an eye on their kids, the motor traffic, and the lack of respect for the use of the wheels/no wheels lanes. There is plenty of buffer between the paths for wheels (as noted above, the farthest from the seawall) the no-wheels, and the wall.

    If your child is too young to be safe in that environment, it’s probably best to find a quieter place to ride/scoot/skate. Alki is the closest thing to a pedestrian freeway Seattle has, and is always best served by people old enough to be very aware of their surroundings and willing to follow the rules (I’m talking to you…meandering walkers on the wheels path!!!). I’m very careful in that area and usually just defer to the roadway, but being sensitive to your surroundings is important, and a 4 year old rely’s on us for that judgement.

    I’m glad to hear your little one is OK. Not intending to criticize, and SUPER GLAD he had a helmet. Just don’t think a railing is the answer.

  • Kathy April 13, 2015 (10:48 am)

    Trickycoolj, certified helmets are only safe when fitted properly. I own/have owned many certified helmets. The chin straps on these helmets loosen up – some more often than others, depending on the closure/attachment system. Some, I have had to tighten every time I ride – annoying but necessary for safety. Usually, but not always, the more expensive helmets are better for staying adjusted. Parents, please check your kids helmet for fit every time they go out. And a shout out to Mike for providing helmet fit information. Here is another link on wearing your helmet safely from Cascade Bicycle Club:

  • Teri April 13, 2015 (1:31 pm)

    Annie, are you our wonderful lady in blue? I’m so glad you saw this article! Waiting for your contact info. We will get in touch!
    Thanks so much! Teri

    • WSB April 13, 2015 (1:34 pm)

      I’m forwarding her note shortly.

  • Jeanne April 13, 2015 (4:50 pm)

    I am Aaron’s other grandmother. I would like to add my heartfelt thanks to all the people who helped our little guy right after the fall and during his time in the hospital. I am also especially grateful to Teri for making sure Aaron had a strong, secure helmet on before beginning his ride. I am sure it saved his life.

  • KM April 13, 2015 (6:01 pm)

    Happy to hear he’s recovering! Accidents happen, and it’s great that we live in a community that can support each other when they do. Hope he’s back to riding soon.

  • quilterwoman April 13, 2015 (9:18 pm)

    So glad the little one is on the road to recovery, and to westseattledood, yes dogs do count! Glad yours is still with you!

  • 33Pete April 14, 2015 (2:23 pm)

    Well said Scott C – a fence or railing is definitely not the answer.

  • alkistu April 14, 2015 (3:32 pm)

    How about a nicely landscaped berm or some bushes that would add to the scenery.

  • Annie April 14, 2015 (8:08 pm)

    Yes it is Teri…I look forward to hearing from you when the wsb sends you my email address. Thinking of you all!

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