Northwest News

Narrows Marina installs permanent gate, restricting access to fatal boat ramp

A new gate blocks access to the Narrows Marina boat ramp in Tacoma where at least seven people have died in less than two decades, including one man last month.

The boat launch was previously open to the public but is now available to staff and tenants by appointment only.

The metal gate, installed over the weekend, is supported by two cement pillars on each side and has a padlock. A large red and black sign mounted on the gate reads “No trespassing: Public boat ramp closed.”

Scott Wagner, co-owner of Narrows Marina LLC, told The News Tribune Monday that the boat launch is only available to people who already moor their boats at the marina. The general public won’t be able to pay to use the facility, he said.

Wagner has not commented on the accidents at the boat ramp, but said in a statement last month that marina operators “never felt that it was unsafe or presented an unreasonable hazard to the public.”

“However, in light of recent events and out of an abundance of caution, we are closing the boat ramp to public access indefinitely,” he said in the statement.

The marina owners announced the closure of the boat ramp April 24. Since then, it had been temporarily blocked with a parked truck and a concrete barrier.

A News Tribune investigation last year found that at least eight cars had plunged into the water there in the previous 17 years. Four of 11 people in the cars were killed. Another was left permanently disabled.

After the story was published, readers tipped off the newspaper about two other deaths; records requests revealed one was a drunken driver, the other a suicide.

The latest victim was 88-year-old Richard Gustafson, who drove into the water at the marina’s boat launch April 21 and died hours later at a hospital.

Until Gustafson’s death, the most recent fatality was 21-year-old Michaela Baker, who drove down the boat ramp and plowed into the water just before 1 a.m. on May 9, 2011. She had been drinking and chose to drive herself home after losing track of her ride.

Her mother said Monday that the permanent gate is a small victory, but it won’t bring back the seven lives lost.

“It finally brings some peace of mind,” Maria Baker said. “Why’d it take so long for this to happen? It is tragic.”