From Seattle DogSpot.com: Edmonds man files claim for deaths of dogs hit by train at off-leash park

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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:

    1. 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
    2. 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.”

 

 

10 COMMENTS

  1. There have always been signs down there and now there is a fence, I feel sorry for the dog owner but its his own fault no one elses. I have been taking my dogs down there for years park or no park, there are railroad tracks and trains. The only thing I can tell the owner if your going to let your dogs run on the railroad tracks, do everybody a favor and don’t get anymore dogs, thats total irresponsibility on the owners part..

  2. The city will settle as the cost of litigation will be more than the claim, probably. If the guy is that concerned with the park, he should just donate what he gets to the park. Fat chance, I bet.

  3. I feel sorry for the dog owner but this is not the city’s fault. They did not force him to bring his dogs to this park and he stated he noticed the area in question on previous visits…. Come on..

  4. I agree with Patrick. Dog owners are responsible for their safety and there are many dangers in areas around trains. The OLAE does a wonderful service for dog owners and if sued I am sure the City will close it.

  5. The situation is far worse than Mr. Rathrauff has indicated. If you spend any time walking around the city, you’ll see hundreds, maybe thousands of places where pedestrian-only areas (sidewalks) meet dangerous vehicle areas (streets) and there are no fences and no signs to indicate the danger to our children. If we can require leashes on cats, surely we can require leashes on our children to keep them safe. The sidewalks of our city are just a lawsuit waiting to happen.

  6. In August 2010, when Mr. Brown complained about the eastern fence and lack of signs, the City of Edmonds immediately posted two “Warning Signs” and BNSF posted five “No Trespassing” signs on the eastern fence.

    The fall 2010 O.L.A.E. newsletter, including a picture of the new WARNING sign, had commentary taken from Mr. Brown’s email. This newsletter is available immediately as one enters the double gated fence or on-line at the website. The website also has rules and responsibilities as well as a manual that discusses how users must control their dog behaviors as this area is a playground for dogs. When the tide is out, dogs can run in both directions such as north into Marina Beach Park (where they are not allowed) and south for miles.

    Of course, I feel compassion for the dog owner and felt compassion for the dog owner in 2006 when I was not a member of City Council. Subsequent to both these tragic events, the City immediately took action and did in fact extend the eastern fence (in 2006) and installed a new southern fence (in 2011) which is now adjacent to the Eastern fence and prior to walking over the huge boulders that acted as a “natural gate” for many previous years.

    O.L.A.E. has many very dedicated volunteers and considering our park under the non-profit O.L.A.E. has been “open for business for 2,190 days”, we have seen thousands of happy dogs and owners play and enjoy this lovely park. Hopefully the park will remain open for business for many years to come as our volunteers are very dedicated.

  7. I feel for Mr. Rathruff, losing 2 dogs this way would be devastating. However, 4 DOGS? I have my hands full watching one full size dog, but 4? It’s an ACCIDENT…you need to blame yourself, not the City. Since the dogs were killed on the tracks, wouldn’t that be BNSF property? PRIVATE property no less? Why don’t you sue them and Amtrak also Mr. Rathruff, for allowing their trains to speed around the corners without blowing their horns as they get near, also sue them for having all that OPEN ACCESS to the tracks at the Dayton street intersection…The City of Edmonds signed the park properly, and any other accidents that have occured there over the years are just that, accidents. Last I heard, dogs can’t read, but their owners can….can’t they?

  8. Interesting. Since the tracks are on private property and the railroads enjoy a 100 foot right of way, yes, the dogs were trespassing. So if they cause a hindrance to train movement, the railroad companies affected could potentially sue the persons who cause the hindrance. Not to speak of the persons being charged criminally for trespassing.
    This was not an accident. It was negligence on the part of the owner of the dogs. The owner did not maintain control of where his dogs went. The park has never had completely secure borders and because of where it sits, it never will.
    Something you may not know is that the railroads are private highways, pretty much, and when the trains travel on them, they can go as fast as they want. They slow down in cities and near crossings just for safety, not because they have to.
    Bringing lawsuits against owners of property by people who trespass, well, it really doesn’t make sense to me. Violate others property and then sue them. Nice concept.

  9. That’s an interesting point, Paul. If Mr. Rathrauff takes this to court, he will be forced to state under oath that he allowed his dogs to trespass on railroad property. Trespass is a criminal matter. I’m not a lawyer, but I think that BNSF could ask the prosecutor to press charges based on evidence in the court record, and BNSF wouldn’t even have to bear the expense of civil litigation. Unless I’ve overlooked something, I don’t think this is going to trial, and the city has no reason to be generous in awarding damages.

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