Boat ramp deaths lead to its closure

A public boat ramp in Tacoma, Wash., is now closed after seven people have died in the course of 20 years.
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A public boat ramp in Tacoma, Wash., is now closed after seven people have died in the course of 20 years.

Boaters used to come and go as they pleased at Narrows Marina, but since the most recent drowning — retired Tacoma lawyer Richard Gustafson, 88, who mistook the ramp for a road — the owners decided to close the launch.

"It's wonderful that it's there," Gloria Smith, who almost died there a year and half ago when she became trapped in her car as water rose, told Komo News. "But for the seven people that were killed there and their families, it was just heartbreaking."

Four years ago, Michaela Baker also mistook the ramp for a road in the dark. Her mother, Maria Baker, said she had been urging marina owners to put up a warning gate.

"Since the loss of our daughter, I've just been saying it's going to take somebody of prominence in the community that's going to actually make them take action," Baker said.

"We are deeply saddened and regret the accidents and loss of life that have occurred on the boat ramp, but we have never felt that it was unsafe or presented an unreasonable hazard to the public,” marina co-owner Scott Wagner said in a statement, according to the website. “However, in light of recent events and out of an abundance of caution, we are closing the boat ramp to public access indefinitely."

The city of Tacoma said it did not take any action against the marina because it appeared to be complying with all known requirements for private facilities such as that.

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