After Bellingham teen's death, safety issues raised at Whatcom Falls Park

Official: 'We're unable to remove all the hazards from the park'

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDMay 8, 2013 

SWIMMER DEATH

Whatcom Creek Tuesday morning, May 7, 2013, where Daniel Santiago Guerrero, 16, died after being swept under a swift current in Whatcom Falls Park Monday night. Guerrero jumped into the creek while swimming with friends but did not surface. He was later pronounced dead at the hospital.

PHILIP A. DWYER — THE BELLINGHAM HERALD Buy Photo

BELLINGHAM - A parks official is urging visitors to Whatcom Falls Park to be careful and to use common sense following the death of a Bellingham teen who jumped into swift-moving water beneath a small waterfall Monday, May 6.

Daniel Santiago Guerrero, 16, was with six other friends at a spot that has been loosely referred to as a swimming hole or pool for girls on Whatcom Creek. (It is upstream of the stone bridge and the main falls at the park.)

They called 911 when he didn't surface.

"It is a tragedy. We want to give our condolences to the family and let them know we're all saddened by this," Bellingham Parks Director James King said Tuesday.

Diving and swimming at the park are popular warm-weather activities for teens and young adults in Bellingham, and there have been deaths and injuries over the years.

In August 2005, then 16-year-old Katie Hofstetter slipped and landed on a boulder in the park's whirlpool swimming area. The Bellingham girl fractured her spine and was paralyzed from the waist down.

The whirlpool area is a commonly used diving and swimming spot in the park. The day that Hofstetter was injured, several other people were jumping from the cliff, swimming and using the trail to get out of the water.

In July 2000, 12-year-old John B. Jefferson Jr. drowned after he jumped into the creek about 50 yards upstream of the rock bridge.

Other kids at the park found the Bellingham boy's body submerged in about 10 feet of water.

Questions about safety at the park, which also is popular with runners and walkers, have been raised a number of times.

On Tuesday, King said people should stay on the trails that have been built, and to know their abilities.

"We're unable to remove all the hazards from the park or protect people from all the hazards in the park. We encourage people to use caution and common sense, know their abilities and know where they're at," he said.

Whether Guerrero's death could lead to a ban on swimming or jumping into the water was unknown Tuesday.

"We're still reviewing this. We don't have all the facts. This is very much something that's still in the works," King said.

Signs warning visitors are posted in a number of locations, including near the popular whirlpool area.

One sign, placed where the main trail begins from the parking lot, reads: "There are no supervised swimming areas in Whatcom Falls Park."

Other signs warn of shallow waters and that rocks may be present, said Marvin Harris, the parks operations manager.

"It's specifically related to jumping," he said of those signs near the whirlpool area.

But no signs were posted at the spot where Guerrero and his friends were, according to Harris.

Whether that could change was unknown Tuesday.

"At this time, we're still gathering information," Harris said.

Reach Kie Relyea at 360-715-2234 or kie.relyea@bellinghamherald.com.

Bellingham Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service