A year later, the amphibious vehicles are back on the roads (and in Lake Union). The jokes are still corny, but safety improvements have been made. Lawsuits are working their way through the courts, and some victims are still struggling with their injuries.
North Seattle College on Friday dedicated a garden to the victims of the Ride the Ducks crash during a memorial marking the one-year anniversary of the crash.
“On that day, we experienced heartbreak,” said North Seattle College President Warren Brown. “To the families, as they share our grief … on this day and always, we hope and pray you feel the tremendous affection this campus has for you.”
Five granite benches are in the garden to honor Claudia Derschmidt, Haram Kim, Privando “Ivan” Putradanto, Mami Sato and Runjie Son, the students who died. A globe, supported by five pillars, will also be installed.
“Standing here [in the garden], I think about all my classmates and the trip … we were having so much fun, and now we’re standing here,” said Phuong Dinh, a student who was injured in the crash and now walks with a cane and leg brace. “It definitely doesn’t feel like a year.”
Mazda Hutapea, another injured student, said that while she looks OK, “People don’t know what’s inside my mind.” Hutapea said she feels physically ready to return to school, but “mentally I’m not sure I’m ready to face the fact that a year ago I was in a major accident that changed my life.”
Brown said he, too, has struggled to process the tragedy. People have told him it’s still difficult for them to cross the Aurora Bridge, he said.
The scene that day was chaotic.
“All I remember is just going airborne and thinking, ‘When is this going to stop?’” said Tim Gesner, a Ride the Ducks passenger. “It seemed like I was just flying and hitting things forever.”
“I got out of my car and there were bodies just everywhere. People laying in the street,” said Brad Volm, whose SUV also was part of the crash.
The crash raised questions about the safety of the narrow Aurora Bridge and the Ride the Ducks operation.
Shortly after the wreck, the state suspended the Duck company from operating.
Meanwhile, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigated and found, in a preliminary report, that a failed axle caused the Duck vehicle to swerve into oncoming traffic. The agency also found the Seattle Ride the Ducks operator had not made a recommended fix to its front-axle housing assembly.
The Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission (UTC) reviewed the company’s compliance with safety standards and found it had violated 442 rules and laws. The company later agreed to pay $222,000 in penalties. The state later increased the penalty to $308,000.
Four months after the crash and with safety changes, half of the company’s Duck vehicles were allowed back on the road. The company agreed to drive new routes. No longer would the Ducks be allowed to drive on the Aurora Bridge. The company added a second crew member to their rides so drivers would focus on the road and not on entertaining tourists. It also added cameras to the Duck vehicles.
After a few test runs, tourists were back to quacking in Lake Union. The jokes were still corny.
A year later, Seattle lawyer Karen Koehler said 35 victims have filed lawsuits against Ride the Ducks. She is representing 20 of those claims in a consolidated lawsuit, she said.
Amid grief and tragedy, Seattleites provided support to crash victims.
Just after the crash, donors overwhelmed a local blood bank asking for help. Donors gave more than $57,000 to support crash victims. Responding to media reports, North Seattle College announced it would cover crash victims’ medical costs should they lose student insurance coverage.
The horrific event inspired a mournful song.
Seattle composer Fred West, who was kayaking under the bridge when the wreck took place, wrote a choral arrangement for the victims titled, “All of Your Precious Light.”