Tacoma child hit by car while trick-or-treating remains in critical condition

The trick-or-treater injured late Monday in north Tacoma attends the Prime Time program at Immanuel Presbyterian Church at North Ninth and J streets in Tacoma.
The trick-or-treater injured late Monday in north Tacoma attends the Prime Time program at Immanuel Presbyterian Church at North Ninth and J streets in Tacoma. phaley@thenewstribune.com

The 7-year-old boy hit by a car while trick-or-treating in Tacoma on Monday remains in critical condition at Mary Bridge Children’s Hospital’s intensive care unit.

First Presbyterian Church held a vigil for the boy late Tuesday.

The church, along with the executive director for Prime Time Extended Learning Center at Immanuel Presbyterian Church, are points of contact for people who want to help the family.

First Presbyterian can be reached at 253-272-3286. Prime Time executive director Gemma Stephani can be reached at 253-627-2616.

Prime Time will hold a streetside vigil Friday at 5 p.m., pleading with people to slow down when driving on North I and Ninth streets, where the boy was hit.

“We’re trying to find someone who can do a prayer service afterward,” Stephani said Wednesday afternoon. “Unfortunately, all of our pastors are out of town this weekend.”

Stephani is in touch with the boy’s mother and is regularly updating Prime Time staff about his condition. The boy attends the before- and after-school program connected with Lowell Elementary School.

“The family doesn’t want meals, gifts or donations,” Stephani said. “What they want is for people to speak out about traffic safety on North I Street. They want to try to be heard that this is a very dangerous street. Nobody follows the speed limit.”

Pedestrian improvements to make crossing North I Street are needed, but so is tougher enforcement of speed limits, said Councilman Robert Thoms, whose council district includes the North Slope neighborhood. There are $2 million worth of planned pedestrian improvements in the city’s 2017-18 budget, including $1 million to install flashing beacons on speed limit signs in 14 Tacoma school zones, including at Lowell Elementary, on I Street about four blocks away from where the 7-year-old was hit.

Thoms said crosswalks could help to slow traffic down at North I and North Fourth, North Sixth, and North Ninth streets. “If you delineate where people can go through safely, people will go through them, but you have to actually have safety improvements in there, i.e. crosswalks, beacons and the like,” Thoms said.

Eliminating some of the street parking on I Street could help, too, he said: When cars slow down to park, vehicles behind them whip around them and speed up to pass, which can be dangerous if someone is starting to cross the street.

“I would argue we need better enforcement of speed limits in the city of Tacoma in general,” he said. “I would argue there’s not a very good enforcement of speed limits in the city. Enforcement is the way to do this, slow people down. You don’t have to go down to one lane to slow people down, just give them a handful of tickets and they’ll slow down.”

According to a social media post to a North Slope community group on Facebook, the boy’s family is asking people to call and write letters to Tacoma officials to act on street improvements planned for North I Street.

The post notes the boy’s family doesn’t want anyone else to be hurt and suggests people ask for traffic circles, crosswalks with flashing lights, speed control patrols or anything else to would make the neighborhood safer for pedestrians.

The boy was hit Monday night while crossing North I Street. He was taken to Mary Bridge with a fractured skull, missing teeth and bruises on his body, according to Pierce County Superior Court charging documents.

Kasey Gunnarson, 38, was charged Tuesday with vehicular assault. He was held on $20,000 bail.

Gunnarson told officers he had gotten off work as a bartender, drank alcohol and smoked marijuana before driving home, records state.

He said the boy ran in front of his SUV and that was why he hit him, records state.

The officer said he didn’t know if Gunnarson was struggling to speak because of being inebriated or because he was distraught about hitting the boy, records state. He told the officer many times he hoped the boy would be OK.

Gunnarson was taken to Allenmore Hospital, where blood samples were taken and sent to the Washington State Toxicology Laboratory for analysis. Test results are pending.

Staff writers Kenny Ocker and Candice Ruud contributed to this report.

Brynn Grimley: 253-597-8467, @bgrimley

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