The sign above the hospital bed reads: "My name is Willie. Talk to me, I can hear you."
Willie Narcomey's stepmother, Audrey Prentice, believes he can. Doctors and nurses attending the skateboard accident victim are less optimistic. They say Willie will be semi-comatose for the rest of his life.Willie had never ridden a skateboard before the morning of Oct. 18. He asked to leave a few minutes early for first grade at Washington School and found a skateboard along the way.
He rode it down a hill near his home at 299 N. Center and was hit by a car whose driver didn't see him sitting on the board. Willie is being treated in Primary Children's Medical Center, his head still bruised where the car hit him.
Willie's was the second skateboarding accident in a month in the Salt Lake Valley. The other killed 15-year-old Tony Burr, who was lying down on his skateboard while riding it in the area of 78th South and 25th East.
Salt Lake County Deputy Dee Kartchner said it was quite dark when the accident happened, and the driver, who was not charged until recently, left the scene and may not have known what happened.
A 26-year-old Midvale man was booked into the Salt Lake County Jail and charged with negligent homicide, a Class A misdemeanor in the case.
Kartchner said to his knowledge, this is the first fatal accident involving skateboards in the Salt Lake area, but the sport is becoming more of a problem.
"They just get in the way of cars," he said.
Because of the recent accidents, the Salt Lake County sheriff's office has considered issuing citations to skateboard riders who ride in the street.
Dave Ward, who heads the Officer Friendly program in Salt Lake schools, said instructions for safe skateboarding are included in his presentations to children.
"Skateboards are one of those things you can't ride on the sidewalk and you can't ride on the road," he said. "The responsibility of skateboard safety has to be the responsibility of the kids."
In 1986, 1,747 skateboard injuries required treatment in Utah's hospital emergency rooms, according to a study done by the state Department of Health.
Patricia Keller, director of the state's Childhood Accident and Injury Prevention Program, said skateboarding ranks fifth as the most injury-producing sport after football, basketball, use of trampolines and baseball.
Keller said accidents involving skateboarding tend to be more serious and result in more fractures than other sport injuries.
Sgt. Bill Brown of the Salt Lake Police Department's Youth Division believes a skateboard park would ease many of the problems.
Officers in the foot patrol division of the Salt Lake Police Department said youths looking for a place to ride often pick the downtown near the malls. They are rarely issued citations; officers instead suggest other areas where skateboarding is legal.
Bountiful Police Chief Larry D. Higgins has instructed his officers to start cracking down on skateboarders who take to the street or practice tricks on the new planters and benches in the downtown.
Alan Orton, manager of Pedersen's Sports in Salt Lake's Valley Fair Mall, said a skate park would "fill a great void" for area riders because they have no place to go after they buy their boards.
Orton said the typical skateboard buyer is between 5 and 20 years old, male and does not buy safety equipment along with their boards.
On a national scale, the popularity of skateboarding seems to be declining. Skateboard organizations that once existed in California are now inactive on the register of the National Safety Council Library.
A 1978 article in the National Safety Council magazine called skateboarding the fastest growing injury-producing sport in the country.
The same article cites skate parks as the answer to safety concerns because in parks skaters must wear protective gear and obey safety rules.
Patty Fricks of the Salt Lake County Health Department said there was a skate park in the Salt Lake Valley about five years ago, but it failed because nearby residents complained about the noise.
Noise often is also a problem when kids build their own skate ramps. Although the department has never taken anyone to court because of noise, complaints have prompted many riders to take their ramps down or agree to use them only during certain hours.
Meanwhile, Bill Narcomey and Audrey Prentice watch their son for any sign that he might one day be the same boy as he was before he found a skateboard on his way to school.
When the accident happened, Prentice said the dozen doctors that saw Willie in the emergency room said he probably wouldn't survive.
Now she said doctors tell her he will never get any better than semi-comatose.
But, she said, "They don't know Willie."