Local death and near-fatal longboarding crash are eye-openers

Local death and near-fatal longboarding crash are eye-openers
TRI-CITIES, Wash. -- The popularity of skateboarding has evolved into longboarding. The boards are longer and can allow for more tricks and higher speeds. KEPR learned of a local death here in the Tri-Cities blamed on longboarding, as well as another near fatality. We spoke with a survivor about how they are trying to make others aware of the dangers.

After a terrifying day in October, these Richland High grads weren't sure if things would ever be the same.

"I consider myself a blessing and I'm happy that I'm still here and still alive and able to do things I would normally do," said survivor Justin Wiley.

Justin Wiley and Jimmie Roper planned to longboard down West Cliffe Hill.

"And then he spun in a 180 in the air and landed on his feet, facing up the hill and it whiplashed his whole body and his head hit the concrete really hard and he bounced. When I was riding past him, I could see his eyes roll in the back of his head and he was just rolling down the hill," said Justin's best friend and witness of the accident, Jimmie Roper.

Jimmie rushed back to find his best friend knocked out.

"I was in shock and there was blood out of his ear and on his back and his shirt was all ripped up and there was a lot of blood and he was laying in a pile of blood," he said.

Justin's parents didn't know if their son would live or die.

"About 24 hours later, one time, they did get a little squeeze and that was hope, every day was like that, cause we were on edge not knowing," said Justin's mom, Dorothy Frenzel.

That squeeze was a sign. Justin was going to make it.

"There was that moment, that next day in the ICU when the sun comes up and even though you hear the machines every day and the beeping, I remember thinking, we looked at each other, and we're like, he's gonna be OK, tears were streaming down our faces and we were just over come with this feeling of comfort," said Frenzel.

Justin was a lucky one. Privacy laws prevent us from knowing specific details, but KEPR learned a boy from the Columbia Basin died at Kadlec last fall from a longboarding accident. Skatepark.org says 42 people died from the sport in the U.S. in 2011. 30 more died in 2012. Many boarders don't wear a helmet.

"I honestly thought it was stupid, I didn't want to, I didn't see anybody else wearing it," said co-founder and President of Cruisin for a Cause, Danny Page.

Page is head of local organization that promotes longboarding safety, starting with helmets.

"It makes a difference on your whole life and I mean obviously a helmet could have made a difference in mine," said Justin.

Hoping that with his hard lesson, others learn, too.

KEPR also checked in with the Safe Kids Coalition about the sport. They offer free helmets for biking or boarding. Donations are appreciated.