Amid mounting concerns about public safety after another death this week, the Narrows Marina announced Friday it will close its public boat ramp and install a permanent gate.
Use of the boat launch will be available to tenants and staff by appointment only, according to a statement from the marina. New signs will also be installed, it said.
“We are deeply saddened and regret the accidents and loss of life that have occurred on the boat ramp, but we have never felt that it was unsafe or presented an unreasonable hazard to the public,” said Scott Wagner, co-owner of Narrows Marina LLC, in the statement. “However, in light of recent events and out of an abundance of caution, we are closing the boat ramp to public access indefinitely.”
All other facilities at the marina will remain open, it states.
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The closure was announced two days after 88-year-old Richard Gustafson died after driving into the water at the ramp Tuesday night. He was rescued from his pickup that was submerged in 13 feet of water, but died early Wednesday at a hospital.
The marina currently has a temporary barrier that includes a parked truck and a section of concrete.
Gustafson is the seventh reported fatality at the marina’s boat launch, which was the center of a News Tribune investigation last May.
That newspaper reported that at least eight cars had plunged into the water there in the previous 17 years. Four of 11 people in the cars were killed. Another was left permanently disabled. After the story was published, readers notified the paper about another two fatal plunges.
The newspaper also found no government safety standards or guidelines specific to private boat launch facilities.
Before Tuesday’s accident, Michaela Baker was the most recent fatality at the ramp. Security camera footage showed the 21-year-old Tacoma woman driving down the boat ramp and plowing into the water just before 1 a.m. May 9, 2011.
Her car was found six hours later, submerged in about 10 feet of water with her body inside.
She had been drinking and chose to drive herself home after losing track of her ride just before the accident.
For four years, her mother, Maria Baker, has fought for safety improvements at the marina to keep other families from experiencing similar tragedy.
Reached by phone Friday afternoon, Baker was nearly speechless. Her response to the news of the closure was simple: “Finally.”
“That’s the only word,” she said. “It breaks my heart that seven people had to die.”
Baker thanked everyone who pressured the marina to make safety improvements, which she believes will save lives.
“It so desperately needed to be done,” she said.