The family of an 11-year-old Lake Stevens girl who was killed when she was struck by a boulder of ice in the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest last year is suing the National Forest Service.
The family of an 11-year-old Lake Stevens girl who was killed when she was struck by a boulder of ice in the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest last year is suing the U.S. Forest Service.
The suit filed Tuesday alleges that signs at the popular Big Four Ice Caves fail to adequately warn visitors about the potential danger from the kind of ice avalanche that killed Grace Tam on July 31, 2010. According to the suit, the Forest Service failed to maintain danger signs warning people of the risks of collapsing ice, snow and unstable caves along the trail to the caves.
“This is an avalanche zone and needs to be treated like one,” said attorney James McCormick, who is representing the family. “Had the Forest Service done its job, Grace would be alive today.”
Forest Service spokesman Kelly Sprute said the agency would not comment on the ongoing litigation.
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John Tam said he would never have taken his family to the ice caves if he had been aware of the danger.
Tam had gone to the park on July 31, 2010, with his wife, Tamami Okauchi; their children, William and Grace; and two exchange students from Japan. They were on the ice fields, outside the ice caves, when a chunk of ice the size of a car rolled down the mountain and struck Grace, crushing her pelvis.
Because there was no cellphone reception in the remote area, hikers ran down the trail to summon help while others tried to assist the girl. The family waited for more than an hour for emergency crews to arrive.
McCormick said the Forest Service failed to replace signs warning visitors of the dangerous risks when it built a new bridge over the nearby Stillaguamish River in 2009.
“What really struck me,” McCormick said, “is that there is nothing that tells you stay on the trail, nothing to say you have crossed into the danger zone.”
Tam initially said that he did not want to assign blame in his daughter’s death, but her loss plagued him. He said her death “could have been prevented easily with better signs, barriers and guardrails.”
In the wake of Grace’s death, the Forest Service said it would review signage and consider ways to raise awareness of the other dangers on the trail. Peter Forbes, district ranger of the Forest Service’s Darrington Ranger District, said shortly after the accident that the Forest Service was “recognizing that a lot of our clientele come from a more urban environment and may not recognize all the hazards that occur in the natural environment.”
Tam, however, said the Forest Service was unresponsive to his pleas for more warnings.
In August 1998, a Bothell woman was killed by falling ice when one of the caves partially collapsed.
Information from The Associated Press is included in this report.
Christine Clarridge: 206-464-8983 or firstname.lastname@example.org