A girl's fall from a swing prompts questions and soul-searching

Eva Anderson arranges flowers that have been sent to her since her fall. - Elizabeth Shepherd
Eva Anderson arranges flowers that have been sent to her since her fall.
— image credit: Elizabeth Shepherd

Eva Anderson, 9, celebrated the end of school last week with what has become a summertime tradition for many on the Island: She clambered onto a swing just down the beach from Lisabeula Park and sailed over the water.

Somehow, however, the slight blond girl didn’t get a secure hold on her fourth ride, and as her classmates from the private Maravilla School watched in horror, she fell some 15 to 20 feet, into shallow water covering the rocky beach below.

Her injuries were extensive — a broken arm and wrist, two broken teeth, a large cut to her lower lip requiring stitches and scraped and swollen knees, topped off with an 11-hour stay at Harborview Medical Center’s emergency room.

Now, her parents, Chad and Hedy Anderson, want to share their story — in part, to let parents know about the swing and in the hope that the property owners will see that it gets taken down.

“We really are very lucky,” Chad said. “When you think of all the possibilities and what we walked away with, we are very lucky.”

This swing — or one like it — has been around a long time and figures into many people’s memories of summer fun on the Island. Brett Kranjcevich, 45, the assistant chief at Vashon Island Fire & Rescue, says he has memories of friends who used to swing there. Elias Savage, now in his 20s, recalls “summers and summers” playing on it; no one, he recalled, ever got hurt.

But in fact, Eva is not the first to be injured in a nasty fall from it. A few years ago a teen suffered considerable injuries in an accident when he slipped off the swing. His recovery took months.

With this latest accident, some are asking questions about the swing, which is on private property adjacent to the Vashon park. Does the owner have a responsibility to take it down? Or are the kids who swing on it trespassing and thus to blame for any injury that might befall them? Did the owners even put it up? Or is it Island youth, restringing the rope from time to time?

What about Vashon Park District? Walking the beach at Lisabeula, it might feel to some that the swing is on park property, though there is a sign marking the edge of the park in the grass above the beach. Does the district have any responsibility to mark the boundary more clearly, even though doing so would be tricky in a tide zone?

Patty Gregorich, who runs the small Maravilla School, has many questions, too, but is clear on some important facts: “The swing is really high, and there is no margin for error.”

The day of the picnic seven students between the ages of 9 and 13 were at the beach with Gregorich and another parent; more parents were set to join the group later. The kids asked Gregorich if they could explore down the beach, and Gregorich told them yes. She did not know the swing, about a five-minute walk down the beach, was there.

The kids are outdoor- savvy, Gregorich noted. Most of them spend Fridays at the Vashon Wilderness Program and are accustomed to exploring on their own and together.

The group played uneventfully until Eva did not get a firm seat on the swing’s disk and fell. Some students helped her — bleeding and one arm obviously broken — while others ran to alert the adults.

“They put their best selves forward,” Gregorich said.

When the emergency responders arrived, they were “beyond magnificent,” Gregorich said. They took care of Eva and tended to the other children to help lessen their trauma and educate them about falls such as the one Eva took. They explained that when people fall a distance greater than they are tall, they are at risk of serious internal injuries.

Though clearly in distress about what happened to Eva, the group decided to continue on with their day: a trip to Jason and Jennifer Williams’ home to learn more about solar energy and a potluck and camp-out at the school that night; the kids did not want to cancel the celebratory camp-out, thinking Eva would feel badly if they did. After her stay at Harborview, Eva and her parents joined the school for pancakes and waffles the next morning.

Gregorich, of course, feels the heartache from a child being hurt on her watch. She says she’s thinking a lot these days about what it means to keep children safe and at the same time instill in them a sense of exploration and adventure and the ability to make good decisions for themselves.

“Some people spend their lives being super-protective of their kids, and others give a lot more freedom that some might think is too much,” she said. “What are the right answers?”

Eva’s father Chad Anderson — quick to note an accident like this could have happened under the best of supervision and that he places no blame on Gregorich — is contemplating the same kinds of questions.

“You do not want children to suffer at all,” he said. “But you don’t want to be so reactionary that you take away the potential to create beautiful memories.”

With summer here, the Andersons and Gregorich think these kinds of conversations are good for families to have. Children need to learn how to assess a situation like the one at the beach last week and to ask themselves if they feel safe undertaking an activity that might be both thrilling and hazardous, Gregorich and Eva’s parents said. And they need to fully think about the situation, Gregorich noted, considering, for instance, if they’re tired or hungry, confident or uncertain.

As for this particular swing, which has provided both considerable hours of fun as well as extreme injuries, Gregorich and Chad Anderson say they are clear, despite their belief in the value of adventure and the rights of property owners: They want it to come down. The rope will likely go right back up, Anderson said, but he would like the owners to remove it as a way to acknowledge that Eva and at at least one other have been badly hurt on the swing.

“We make so many symbolic gestures in a day in our lives,” he said, it would be nice if they would do it as a gesture to show they care.

The owners of the property could not be reached for comment.

The two kids injured on this swing are hardly alone. Recent statistics show that nationally 700 people a year go to the emergency room because of injuries on ropes swings like the one near Lisabeula.

Eva is on the mend now. One of her casts has been removed and replaced with a smaller brace so that she can eat and bathe. And she can play soccer, Anderson noted. He and Hedy will be talking to soccer coach Paul Beytebiere about soccer drills she can do with her feet while her arms continue to heal.

Before Eva’s accident, meanwhile, the students at The Maraville School were asked to consider several questions as part of a video diary commemorating their year, one of which they struggled to answer: What day of the school year would they would like to do over?

None of the students could answer that question, Gregorich said, until last Monday, when Eva got hurt. That day, the students said, they would like to do over.

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