Holiday Weekend Brings Both Celebration and Tragedy to Town

The busy weekend included fireworks, a fatality and the annual hydroplane race.

As Vashon opened up in the wake of Gov. Jay Inslee’s lifting of many COVID restrictions on July 30, and islanders moved on after the historic heatwave of last week, another milestone arrived: the Fourth of July weekend.

The sound of personal fireworks ricocheted around the island all day on July 4, intensifying in the evening hours — despite a strongly-worded recommendation from King County Fire Marshal Chris Ricketts not to use personal fireworks in unincorporated areas of King County. The recommendation was made due to dry conditions prompted by last week’s record-setting heat; a Stage 1 burn ban is also in effect.

Vashon Island Fire District Chief Charles Krimmert said he had been on edge going into the holiday, knowing that Vashon would not have an official fireworks display again this year.

“The fear was that everybody would have a fireworks show in their own backyard,” he said.

However, firefighters wound up responding to only one fireworks-related call, he said — a brush fire, near the south end ferry, that threatened a nearby structure. Krimmert said that firefighters were able to knock the fire back and there was no property damage.

While on that call, Krimmert said, first responders also attended to someone who had disembarked from the ferry and approached the firefighters at the scene of the fire. That person, Krimmert said, had facial burns from a fireworks-related accident, but did not require transport for treatment.

Sadly, the busy day for first responders also included being called to the 22400 block of Melchert Way S.W., where a 70-year-old man had fallen from a cliff. First responders performed life-saving measures on the man, but he was pronounced dead at the scene. Access to the scene of the accident was precarious and difficult, Krimmert said.

At press time, the man had not yet been identified by the King County Medical Examiner.

Islanders gather for outdoor entertainment

Open Space for Arts & Community offered an eco-friendly alternative to explosives — the first installment of “Liquid Light,” an ongoing series of light and music shows for all ages. The launch of the series drew more than 200 islanders to the grounds of Open Space to enjoy the installation created by Voice of Vashon deejay Jon Schroeder and lighting artist David Martine.

The theater community had celebrated a milestone the previous day, with the production of Vashon’s first play since March of 2020 — an outdoor presentation of the islander Amy Drayer’s radio play, “Penny Tahlequah and the Ms. Olsen Incident,” a murder mystery set on a very Vashon-like island in 1986.

The production, directed by Chris Boscia of Take A Stand Productions, was first broadcast on July 1 on Voice of Vashon; islanders can still stream it online at

On July 3, the play was performed twice on the back patio of Snapdragon, drawing almost 200 islanders, many of whom could smile at one another, unmasked, for the first time in ages.

That evening, as theater fans enjoyed “Penny Tahlequah” — a play with a plot that centered around Vashon’s longtime tradition of hydroplane races around the island — real racers were preparing for the crack-of-dawn ritual to once again take place.

Evan Hills takes trophy home

A crowd of about 200 people came to Jensen Point at 5 a.m. on Sunday, July 4 to watch the annual hydroplane race around Vashon-Maury.

Carrying on a 60-year Vashon tradition, second-generation driver Evan Hills completed the 43-mile circuit in 37:52 minutes, followed by Jacob Middling, Ben Nelson, Tony Bianchi, and Beau Coy.

Coy, who had a live feed video from a camera on his boat, hit a wave near Point Robinson, knocking the camera loose and throwing him into the water. He was able to climb back in and finish the race, but the camera was lost to Puget Sound.

Hills dedicated his first win to the memory of his friend, Justin Hagerty, who died in 2019.

The hydroplane race has endured through several generations of islanders who like to wrench on things and go fast. Others complain about the loud noise in the early hours and during evening practice sessions leading up to the event. Racers and fans of the race counter that it is a minimal intrusion, happening only once a year, and that many of the racers now use quieter engines.

— Brian Brenno contributed reporting on the hydro races.