Look Before You Leap

On Monday, June 2nd, a Water Slide in Concord, Ca., collapsed. Thirty-two High School students were injured. Six suffered life-threatening injuries. One died.

Napa High School, understandably, is in shock. The 1997 graduating seniors were at Waterworld USA for their senior picnic. When, at 3:30 an announcement was made calling the students to their busses, more then 30 of them ignored warning signs and charged past the life guard. The intent was to break an unofficial school record for the most people going down the slide in a train. Including fellow students already on the slide, some students guessed the total number on the slide at near 60. A great deal more then would have been there had they followed park regulations.

So the slide broke, spilling people 30 feet onto landscaping, stairways and sidewalks

The students fault the park, and the park faults the students. Before it is over I expect that blame will fly like a food fight at the parents, the school, chaperoning adults, park employees, student leaders and probably the "system" for good measure. Grieving parents, greedy lawyers and sensation hungry media will likely keep the issue hot for a while.

While the mud slinging of blame goes on, I find myself asking the same question over and over while looking at the picture of the collapsed slide. Why did those kids do that? One look at the structure and it is pretty obvious that the combined weight of upwards to 60 people, about four and a half tons, was more then it would take.

These were graduating seniors from a professional, middle class, educated area. At least some of them surely had enough knowledge to guess that the weight of that many people might cause a problem more serious then annoying the on-duty life guard. If any had stopped to look.

I am not an advocate of blind obedience. My parents taught me to question authority. Note this is not "defy" authority. They simply told me that I should never stop using my own brain, my own ethics, my own sense of right. They taught me to look at where I step.

These kids apparently never stopped to question the rules they were breaking. They never asked themselves why these rules were in place, what purpose they served, what the consequences of defying them might be.

As a result, a 17 year old girl died at her class picnic. Several others are hurt so severely that their lives will never be the same again.

The parents will probably sue the Park, and they may win. The park could in turn sue the school, and they may win too. But pouring money into the legal profession will not undo the tragedy. Nor is it, I am sad to conclude, likely to teach either the students involved, or the rest of our population, the consequences of not thinking before acting.



By Suli Marr