Updated with a response from the Off-Leash Area Edmonds, a volunteer organization that runs the dog park.
Robert Pregulman of Seattle DogSpot reported Wednesday that Edmonds resident Christian Rathrauff filed a Claim for Damages against the City of Edmonds for the deaths of two of his huskies hit by a train after accessing railroad tracks from the Marina Beach Park Off-Leash Area on Nov. 19, 2010.
“All the information in this post is in the Claim for Damages filed today by Mr. Rathrauff’s attorney, Adam Karp,” Pregulman said.
The dogs were struck and killed by a passing train after they climbed onto the train tracks next to the dog beach through an opening in the fence, the report said. Here’s the full story, published here with the permission of DogSpot.com:
Mr. Rathrauff moved to Edmonds in late 2009 with his 4 huskies – nine-year-old female Baron, nine-year-old male Nugget, three-year-old male Biker, and eight-year-old male Cyrus –and he took the dogs to the Marina Beach Park OLA about 2-4 times a month for exercise.
According to his claim, Mr. Rothrauff noticed on his first visit to the Marina OLA that “that the southernmost portion of the fence abutted dense overgrowth collecting atop a rocky embankment proving nearly impossible for his dogs to traverse, particularly for older dogs like Baron and Nugget.”
Based on this observation on his initial visit and subsequent visits to the OLA, Mr. Rothrauff believed “the tide, boulders, debris, and vegetation provided a barrier precluding any access onto the tracks.”
But on his last visit to the OLA with his dogs in the summer of 2010, about the time that BNSF was installing a new line and the city installed new fencing, Mr. Rothrauff noticed “temporary fencing and bright orange material noisily rattling against the metal.”
Sometime between his last visit to the OLA and the day his dogs were killed, the city cleared the undergrowth and rocks that previously blocked access to the tracks, leaving “an easily navigated pathway at least three feet in width immediately adjacent to the fence.” The report went on to say that the city hadn’t put up any signs warning dog owners about the easily accessible three foot wide path from the OLA to the train tracks.
Baron died at the scene of the accident while Nugget was taken to a nearby veterinary hospital and euthanized due to the severity of his injuries. The report claims that “Baron and Nugget weren’t the only dogs that were hit by trains after accessing the tracks due to inadequate fencing. In fact, the City of Edmonds knew about the problem for at least 10 years.”
DogSpot.com included a summary of previous incidents as described in the Claim for Damages filed Wednesday:
1. On Jul. 9, 2000, a young woman and her dog were struck by a southbound BNSF freight train near the off-leash dog park. An officer on the scene noted that “the City permitted a 140-foot opening between the off-leash park and the tracks.”
2. On Oct. 16, 2006, a dog is reported killed on the tracks. Current councilmember Diane Buckshnis and founder of Off-Leash Areas Edmonds “notes her awareness that pedestrians and dogs can enter the tracks where the fence ends – yet neither she nor the City does anything about it.”
Parks Manager Rich Lindsay also acknowledges that “where the fence ends … pedestrians and dogs may get onto tracks.”
3. Also in 2006, the City noted that “any vegetation or even rocks that might temporarily block access beyond the fence could wash away, revealing a path,” but did nothing to mitigate the problem.
4. In December 2007 the erosion problem is noted again, and again the City does nothing.
5. On Aug. 12, 2008, Jeanne Startzman emailed Edmonds police that “she saw two dogs on the tracks” and described the potential for this tragedy as “terrifying.” The officer forwarded the email to the director of parks and acknowledges that “dogs have been hit by trains over the years. ” Again, the City does nothing.
6. On Jun. 7, 2009, Jennifer Galison reports to the Parks Department that “the park is not secure and both her dogs ran onto the tracks.” She also complained that the park had “no secure barrier or signage.”
7. In May 2010, the city installs temporary “dog proof fencing” to secure the park from BNSF work.
8. In response to an Aug. 16, 2010 email from Wes Brown noting that the fencing was inadequate to prevent dogs from accessing the train tracks, the Parks Director notes that “low tide makes it impossible to fence off entirely at the south end.”
The Parks Department did put up signs to warn dog owners about the openings in fence, but “the signs were not placed anywhere near the south end of the park where the fence permitted dogs to access the tracks,” the claim said.
According to DogSpot.com, Rathrauff is asking the City to pay him $40,000 to settle all his claims or $30,000 if the City does the following:
- Running a fence perpendicular to the existing one, heading west along the plateau that sits above and away from the rising tide to create an unmistakable visual barrier; then using yellow or red caution tape with large, weather-proof signs that clearly state NO TRESPASSING or DANGER TO DOGS or words to that effect; and
- Taking out an advertisement in the OLAE (Off-Leash Area Edmonds) newsletter and local papers, at least half a page in size, informing all readers of the train hazard and the reduction in size of the park per #1 above.
Added Pregulman: “In the current political environment where conservatives and liberals have heated arguments regarding the appropriate function of government in the lives of citizens, I think vast majority of us can agree that one of the things that our elected officials MUST do is ensure the safety of our public areas.”
Here is a response from the Off-Leash Area Edmonds (OLAE), an all-volunteer organization that runs the dog park:
“The non-profit group O.L.A.E. was formed in 2005 to help the City of Edmonds steward the dog park. Over the course of six years, tons of debris has been removed by volunteers and in 2009, the City of Edmonds calculated that five tons of dog feces was removed.
Membership to the O.L.A.E. is optional and to date there are about 250 members. The Directors of O.L.A.E. have also worked with Boy Scouts in efforts for them to gain their Eagle Scout badges. Currently, we are on our fourth Eagle Scout project which will be a doggie obstacle course. This pass summer, O.L.A.E. donated $800 to the City of Edmonds as they constructed a southern fence on the “plateau” that is now adjacent to the Eastern fence which is where the RR tracks are located. During the summer months, on any given summer day, the park will probably see 1,000+ park users and their dogs.
This dog park is considered a gem because of the water, the cleanliness of the park and the availability of water to drink and plastic bags to pick up dog feces. Our newsletter is free and available at the dog park and we have not been contacted again by Mr. Karp (since three of our Directors have resigned due to his badgering) to put any type of notice in our newsletter. We are not part of the lawsuit and have no idea why we have been treated so poorly as all we are is stewards of this wonderful venue.”