The Sunnyside City Council heard a plea last night from the family of Ramiro Valencia Jr. to put a helmet law in place in the city.
Valencia was killed in a long boarding accident on Sept. 22, 2013. Sunnyside attorney Doug Garrison represented the family last night, telling the council that the only marks on Valencia’s body were injuries to his head.
Garrison said that a Sunnyside police officer had passed Valencia just prior to the accident and that the family retained Garrison to find out if the officer had a duty to warn Valencia that he should wear a helmet.
“Basically, my analysis is that the police agency has no duty to enforce a law that does not exist,” said Garrison.
The only city in Eastern Washington that has a helmet law for bicyclists is Spokane, although quite a few cities in Western Washington have such laws. The Valencia family is requesting that Sunnyside enact a helmet law for bicyclists, skateboarders and long boarders to prevent another tragedy.
“This is something that the family of Ramiro Valencia is very passionate about,” said Garrison. “They are paying my exorbitant fees to be here tonight to make this presentation.”
Garrison went on to say that he is concerned about the issue of enforcement of such a law. Juveniles cannot be cited in municipal court, which takes away much of the power of local police to enforce a simple infraction of the law.
Garrison suggested starting with a warning from police. On the second offense he suggested impoundment of the skateboard or bicycle until the juvenile’s parents can prove the juvenile has a helmet. A third offense could involve a monetary penalty, said Garrison.
He suggested citing the guardian of juveniles violating the law.
Garrison said the Valencia family asked for a sense of how the council would feel about such an ordinance so the family would know whether to move forward with attempts to get Sunnyside to adopt a helmet law.
Councilman Dean Broersma noted that riding bicycles and skateboards on sidewalks is illegal in Sunnyside, but it is generally not enforced. Broersma said that a helmet law is logical, but may not be enforceable.
Mayor Jim Restucci asked if Garrison had spoken to the county courts about the issue, as enforcement would have to occur in juvenile court.
Councilman Jason Raines suggested the family attempt to get a law passed at the state level. He also noted that the city already gives away helmets at safety fairs.
Councilwoman Theresa Hancock asked if passing an unenforceable law would put the city in jeopardy of being liable if an officer did not stop a person without a helmet who was later injured. She noted that her son was a skateboarder and that she’s concerned that skateboarders will not wear helmets even if it is required.
Broersma asked Garrison to research how other cities enforce their helmet laws. The council agreed to hear the proposal again after more information is collected.