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More on the rafting tragedy that took the lives of two Walnut Creek teens

By Theresa Harrington
Monday, February 21st, 2011 at 2:32 pm in Education, Walnut Creek.

Matt Campbell, Principal of Las Lomas High School, has issued the following statement regarding the deaths of two students in a rafting accident on Saturday:

“In light of the tragic news, the Las Lomas community is deeply saddened by the loss of two of our students. Gavin and Matt were well respected by staff members and peers, and will be greatly missed.

Las Lomas will offer extended counseling services to help students deal with their grief.

We offer our condolences to the families and friends who are dealing with this extremely difficult time in their lives.”

Times columnist Tony Hicks has posted a somber column about the accident, saying boys are “hard-wired” for adventure.

I visited the site where Gavin and Matt reportedly launched their two-person inflatable raft and was surprised to see no barrier to the creek on what appeared to be the unincorporated county side of a small bridge on Vanderslice Avenue, near Murwood Elementary.

An unfenced area along a creek near Murwood Elementary in unincorporated Walnut Creek gives easy access to the water.

An unfenced area along a creek near Murwood Elementary in unincorporated Walnut Creek gives easy access to the water.

A sign on the chain link fence seen above warns that creek access is restricted, but doesn’t say it’s prohibited:

Sign on Kayser Court side of Vanderslice Avenue bridge

Sign on Kayser Court side of Vanderslice Avenue bridge

On the other side of the bridge, which appears to be in the city limits, the creek is completely fenced off with County Flood Control signs.

Sign on fence near Murwood Elementary School, above creek.

Sign on fence near Murwood Elementary School, above creek.

Friends of the boys who died have made a creek sign into a makeshift memorial.

"Matt Miller and Gavin Powell. We love and miss you," has been written on this sign above the creek.

"Matt Miller and Gavin Powell. We love and miss you," has been written on this sign above the creek.

Here’s some video I shot of the creek, which was flowing slowly today. A bunch of daisies had been left on a rock.

Do you think a fence and signs warning about the dangers of entering the creek should be posted?

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  • J.R.

    My heart aches for the families who lost these spirited, life-loving boys. As a mother of two, I know it would be the end of everything for me to lose one of my sons in such a way. That said, I believe that signs and fences don’t do anything but provide a false sense of security to city officials worried about their liability.

    I grew up in a rural area and spent most of my childhood in creeks with no parent supervision. No one worried about this because we all knew when it was safe to enter the water and when it wasn’t. Living here, I’ve often been saddened that so much is walled off “for our protection.” This just encourages a situation where natural hazards become invisible to adults and a threat to children who don’t know how dangerous they are.

    I want to be clear that I am not suggesting the parents of these boys should have had some prior conversation with them about avoiding the creek. There’s no way to predict what kids will do, and it’s not as though the creek is an obvious source of danger. Most of the time, it’s a sleepy trickle, and (as noted above) hardly even visible in most places.

    I do want to suggest, though, that overreacting in a time of communal grief and throwing fences around everything that hasn’t been fenced already would be a bad idea. You can’t protect children from everything, and trying to just makes them less equipped to protect themselves.

    Instead of getting hung up on whether a sign says “restricted” v.s. “prohibited,” why not simply replace both with a sign that says, “Creek contains hidden hazards. Unsafe for boats or swimming.” Forbidding children to do something just makes them curious. Spelling out what the dangers are at least gives them the ability to make intelligent choices for themselves, just the way my friends and I used to do when we were growing up in the sticks.