The sledding death of 20-month-old Rachael Beckstrom earlier this week has caused officials to take a second look at the safety of the snow-packed hills in local parks.
The daughter of Ronald and Lenore Beckstrom of Sandy was killed Monday in a freak accident at Eastridge Park, 121st South and 10th East. She and her brother, Ronnie, were sliding down a hill on a plastic sled when they slid underneath a bench at a baseball diamond.Police said Rachael was killed when she hit her head on the bench. Her brother was released from the hospital on Wednesday. Rachael was buried Friday at Larkin Sunset Gardens in Sandy.
Officials say the incident has caused them to take several precautions against future accidents.
"We're taking a look right now at what areas are particularly dangerous and deciding what we want to do about restrictions," said Bruce Henderson, director of park operations in Salt Lake County. "We're requesting the county attorney to look at the situation, too."
Supervisors have spent the last two days surveying the parks in the county. Protruding fence posts have been removed and signs have been posted. At Sandy's Eastridge Park, a new fence was built restricting children from sledding on part of the hill where Monday's accident occurred.
Bales of straw have been placed in front of the fence and in front of lamp posts, playground equipment, trees and park benches in other parks. But officials say such precautions will not completely solve the problem.
Byron Jorganson, city administrator for Sandy, said children have traditionally found ways to get around barriers and restrictions. At Sandy's Flat Iron Mesa Park, for example, city officials installed a fence last year two-thirds of the way up a steep hill to prevent sledders from gathering too much speed.
"They would tear the fence down virtually every day," he said. "We had all sorts of problems because they wanted the speed. That's the bottom line."
City officials are now changing the design of the fence and are putting fertilizer on the upper half of the hill to melt the snow. But Jorganson admits that is only a partial solution, and there's not a lot more he can do to force sledders to be safe.
"Typically, you're not there to be safe. You're there to have fun," he said. But putting a ban on sledding wouldn't be practical, either.
"Sledding is like mom and apple pie and everything else. It's just part of what kids like to do," said Henderson.
Despite the steps to make parks safer for children, Jorganson said many people believe officials are going too far. "Most of the reaction from the community is that they resent what we're trying to do at the parks," he said. "People think we are too safety conscious."
But Jorganson said he will continue to try to improve the safety of sledding hills at the public parks. "We could just turn our heads and ignore it, but we don't feel that would be responsible."