Why have four people died at Narrows Marina?

The News TribuneMay 7, 2014 

After the first death, something should have been done to prevent people from mistakenly driving down a Tacoma boat launch ramp into frigid water.

But in the last 17 years, at least seven more cars – and perhaps many others – have taken that dangerous detour at the Narrows Marina. Four people have been killed and one person permanently disabled; yet, incredibly, little has been done to improve safety.

If the owners of the property can’t be convinced by legal means – or human decency – to address the problem, the City of Tacoma or some other jurisdiction should step in and require it. It’s mind-boggling that this situation has been allowed to continue.

As The News Tribune’s Kari Plog reported Sunday, the Narrows Marina boat launch ramp and signage can be clearly seen during the day. But the problem arises at night. The signs are harder to see, and because the ramp is poorly lit with no barrier, it can look like just a continuation of the road. That sense is heightened if it’s raining and the tide is high.

Drivers unfamiliar with the area have gone down the ramp and plunged into the water. Some were able to escape their vehicles. But four others – a 21-year-old woman, a 28-year-old woman and an elderly Bonney Lake couple – were not. A car passenger who was trapped underwater for about 30 minutes was left severely, permanently disabled.

The problem could get worse. A popular restaurant, Boathouse 19, and the Narrows Brewing Company are now open nearby, attracting many new people in the evening who are unfamiliar with the marina layout. A driver can easily miss the sharp right-hand turn to the businesses’ location from South 19th Street. Continuing forward and taking the next right leads directly to the boat ramp.

A recent accident involved a driver looking for the restaurant. She thought she could drive around the building, unaware that the road she was on took her down the ramp. Gloria Smith said that “the road looked the same as the water.”

No government or agency – city, county, state or federal – appears to have clear jurisdiction over safety standards at private marinas. The City of Tacoma would seem to be the most obvious candidate to take action and require effective steps be taken by the owners, who would not talk to The News Tribune.

No one should have died after the first fatal accident in 1997. It’s unconscionable that three more lives were lost. If reasonable steps can’t be taken to prevent future accidents, the boat launch should be declare a public hazard, condemned and shut down.

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