The Buckley city council voted 4-2 Tuesday night to enact an ordinance requiring skateboarders, bicyclists and some other wheeled vehicle users to wear helmets.
The ordinance passed along with a proclamation by the council honoring a 13-year-old boy who died at the Buckley skatepark this month after sustaining a head injury while skateboarding without a helmet.
The proclamation committed the mayor and council to promoting “greater awareness, education, and public services for the use of helmets in the honor and legacy of Berrett Michael Wirth Crossley.” The council and audience stood as Mayor Pat Johnson read the proclamation in a voice thick with emotion.
Wirth Crossley’s death prompted council member Ron Johnson to propose the ordinance at the council’s previous meeting March 9.
As written, the new ordinance requires any person operating bicycles, skateboards, scooters, and roller blades or skates on public areas in Buckley to wear an appropriate helmet while in motion.
It also applies to ‘electric personal assistive mobility devices’, a category which includes devices like electric wheelchairs and the Segway.
Council members agreed Tuesday that helmet-wearing was vital for the safety of kids, but shared some disagreement over whether the ordinance had been drafted too hastily.
The city could do more to stop bicyclists at the skatepark, who under the rules aren’t supposed to bike there, Council Member Marvin Sundstrom said. He shared concerns that the ordinance wouldn’t be able to actually penalize a kid, but added that he also didn’t want to see kids getting a criminal record just because they failed to wear a helmet.
“We don’t want to get stampeded into anything,” Sundstrom said. “I think that we need to explore that a little further. … I don’t see anyone really certain of what we can do. I would like to hold off on this until we get a little better information of how we treat the kids. … Maybe we need to talk to the kids about how to do this, because kids aren’t stupid either.”
As written, violating the ordinance could result in a civil infraction. Police would be able to enforce the ordinance at their own discretion but wouldn’t be required to write tickets for non-compliance.
Buckley Police Chief Kurt Alfano said that sending officers to be helmet cops at the park would probably not be as effective as positive reinforcement like helmet-fitting events, bicycle rodeos and delivering more helmets to the community center.
His own 11-year-old daughter recently left to go biking at the skatepark without a helmet, Alfano said, and the kids there stopped her so she could borrow a helmet from the activity center.
So “it really is about education,” Alfano said. “That’s my own daughter. I want my daughter wearing a helmet. I don’t think she would have had a positive experience if a police officer was saying, ‘Well, we got a citation here,’ or ‘We’re going to find your parents and give them a citation.’ ”
That’s a sentiment echoed by Dylin Williamson, a 25-year-old from Bonney Lake who was at the skatepark Tuesday. Most of the elementary-age kids that afternoon were wearing helmets, but only about half of the older teens and adults did.
“(A helmet rule) should be enforced,” Williamson said. “Whether you’re hanging out here or if you’re riding, you should wear one.”
But at a Milton skatepark Williamson used to frequent, kids would skate without helmets on and just slip them on whenever a police officer drove by to check on them.
So “it’ll be enforced, but once you start ticketing people, which is what they were doing, then nobody’s going to come here,” Williamson said.
City attorney Phil Olbrechts told the council the ordinance could have some liability risk. A lack of state case law on whether cities have a duty to enforce helmet laws means it would be “difficult to predict” how a court would rule if someone filed suit against the city.
“I think a court would recognize that these helmet laws are voluntary, and (that) it’s not good from a public policy standpoint to scare cities and counties away from adopting helmet laws because they do so much good,” Olbrechts said. “Judges, they have a little bit of common sense. I would think that argument would go pretty far with them. But we don’t know.”
Ultimately, Council Members Ron Smith, Connie Bender, Lyn Rose and Amanda Burbank voted in favor of the ordinance. Council Members Marvin Sundstrom and James Morem voted against it. Council Member Luke Wilbanks had been excused earlier from the meeting, which he was not able to attend.
“Our biggest goal moving forward is: How do we create the culture of making wearing a helmet cool?” Mayor Pat Johnson said after the ordinance passed.
Historically, the Buckley Fire Department typically kept around 20 to 40 helmets on hand at the station and would give them to anyone who needed them, Fire Chief Eric Skogen said Tuesday.
After Berrett’s accident, the department moved the 40 helmets they had on hand to the Youth Activity Center nearby the skatepark, Skogen said. The department trained personnel there to properly fit kids with the right helmet and is already placing another order for 60 more helmets.
“As tragic as it was, I think it’s really going to bring things into a clearer focus for some of the kids in the area to understand that it really can happen to anybody, unfortunately, and we want to do whatever we can to prevent that from ever happening again,” Skogen said in an interview.
ALSO ON TUESDAY, THE COUNCIL:
• Heard from Council Member Morem, who announced he plans to move with his family to Nebraska in April. Tuesday’s meeting will be his last on the Buckley city council.
• Discussed the merits and drawbacks of the various contracts the city holds with private engineering firms, and the potential value of hiring a city engineer.
• Discussed the $1,101,507 amount the city is estimated to receive over the next two years from the $1.7 trillion American Rescue Plan recently passed by President Joe Biden.
• Unanimously approved an addendum to the city Museum Services agreement, in which the City will match the $45,000 contributed by the Historical Society to improve the interior of Buckley Hall, a building adjacent to the Buckley Historical Museum, with the goal of marketing the location for rental opportunities and tourism.