It’s been almost four years since a boat ramp at the Narrows Marina claimed the life of a young woman who got lost at the dead end of South 19th Street in Tacoma.
Early Wednesday, it claimed another victim. Richard Gustafson, 88, drove into the water at the marina’s boat launch Tuesday night and died hours later at a hospital.
Gustafson was reported missing from his Fircrest home around 3 p.m. Tuesday. Pierce County Sheriff’s spokesman Ed Troyer said the man didn’t return on time, and his family became concerned.
Bystanders called 911 shortly after seeing a vehicle go into the water at the ramp around 9:30 p.m.
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Divers rescued the victim from what was initially estimated to be 15 feet of water, said Tacoma police spokeswoman Loretta Cool. Gustafson was in critical condition at St. Joseph Medical Center Tuesday night, she said. Troyer said he died about 1 a.m.
The incident is one of more than a half dozen deadly or near deadly cases in roughly two decades at the Narrows Marina.
A News Tribune investigation last year found that at least eight cars had plunged into the water there in the previous 17 years. Four of 11 motorists were killed. Another was left permanently disabled.
Victims ranged from an elderly couple to thieves outrunning the cops.
Records from the accidents revealed that all were the result of lost or confused motorists driving into the water by mistake.
Conditions were similar, if not identical: All happened in the dark. Most happened at or around high tide. Often it was raining.
The News Tribune found then that no government safety standards or guidelines existed that were specific to private boat launch facilities.
After The News Tribune’s story was published May 4, readers tipped off the newspaper about two other deaths at the marina. Subsequent records requests revealed one was a drunken driver, the other a suicide.
Until the death early Wednesday, Michaela Baker had been the most recent fatality at the Narrows Marina.
Security camera footage showed the 21-year-old Tacoma resident driving down the boat ramp and plowing into the water just before 1 a.m. May 9, 2011.
Her car was found around 7 a.m., submerged in about 10 feet of water with her body inside.
She had been drinking and lost track of her ride home just before the accident.
Her mother, Maria Baker, has fought since then to get the attention of the boat launch’s owners, who she says refuse to make an adequate effort to improve visibility and safety at the marina.
In the months after the investigation was published, marina owners made minor changes to the boat launch, adding orange reflective lights on top of the yellow signs already posted at the ramp.
The parcel of land that includes Narrows Marina and its boat ramp is owned and managed by Scott Wagner and Gordon Rush.
News of Tuesday’s incident broke too late to reach either owner for comment.
A restaurant and a taproom — Boathouse 19 and Narrows Brewing — opened on the property in 2012 and 2013, respectively, increasing traffic in the area.