Last Friday was a significant day in Gresham. It marked the first anniversary of the death of 13-year-old Aaron Peters, and also the dedication of what family and friends hope will be the first of many monuments built in his memory.
A gathering in Gresham’s Oxbow Park, near the site on the Sandy River where Aaron drowned last year, marked the dedication of a life jacket kiosk funded with money raised by the Aaron Peters Water Safety Fund. The kiosk offers several dozen life jackets in sizes from infant to adult. They are available for free as loans to anyone using the park who wants or needs them. “We don’t want any family to go through what we did. If one person is saved it’s all worth it,” Aaron’s grandfather, Don Wood, told television station KGW at the ceremony.
Through the fund the family hopes the Oxbow Park kiosk will be only the first of many. Statistics compiled by the Centers for Disease Control indicate that drowning is a surprisingly widespread problem, especially among children and teenagers. “From 2005-2014 there were an average of 3,536 fatal unintentional drownings (non-boating related) annually in the United States – about 10 deaths per day,” the CDC website reports. It goes on to note that while small children are more likely to drown in a swimming pool “the percentage of drownings in natural water settings, including lakes, rivers and oceans increases with age.” Among teens 15 and older 57% of all drownings take place in natural waters. Since rivers are rarely protected by lifeguards the presence of a kiosk like the one dedicated in Gresham last Friday can make all the difference for a child or adult wanting to take advantage of the river.
As an Oregon and Washington lawyer with a practice focused on injuries to children I am inspired by what Aaron’s family has done and hope that it will spread in the months and years to come. So many of the tragedies that take place along our rivers and lakes are avoidable. Life jackets should not be restricted to boaters. There are many situations, especially along a fast-moving river, where they can be the difference between life and death for children who are only playing in the water. Aaron’s family have sought to channel their loss into something that, with hope, will prevent other families from having to suffer the way they have suffered. For that to happen the rest of us need to step up and help them realize their dream of many more life jacket kiosks throughout our two states.