A boy's drowning at Salem's Wallace Marine Park in June moved Samantha Russell to get off the sidelines.
The new foster parent of a 9-year-old boy is pushing for a life jacket station at the Willamette River park. She's already bought about a dozen vests with her own money and is receiving donations at a GoFundMe site.
“I tell (my foster son) any time he’s around water, he needs to have a life jacket on," she said Monday.
The recovery of a second drowning victim Monday raised the stakes for Russell's campaign.
Allen "Chaz" Pearson, 5, was last seen Friday sitting by the edge of the river at Wallace Marine Park. A marine patrol found his body downriver Monday afternoon.
His disappearance had reignited calls for life jacket safety.
"The tragic loss of these two boys underscores the substantial risks for Willamette River swimmers and users. I strongly support a life jacket kiosk," Mayor Chuck Bennett said in an email Monday. Bennett also criticized his own city for not providing a municipal swimming pool as an alternative to the Willamette.
Russell, who lives in Keizer, plans to have at least a temporary life jacket kiosk up at Wallace Marine Park within the next week or so and put jackets and signs at a Keizer Rapids Park kiosk this week.
Since then, the city of Salem has gotten behind her Wallace Marine Park project.
In August, Parks Operations Manager Jennifer Kellar sent Russell an email saying, "After review, your kiosk design and general location are acceptable for the life jacket station."
Kellar said in the email that, because the station will be in a flood plain, it must be cemented in the ground, advising Russell to get in touch with a parks supervisor for other project details.
There was once a life jacket station, which was an Eagle Scout project, at Wallace Marine Park, according to city spokesman Kenny Larson.
"It fell into disrepair," Larson said. Because of graffiti and vandalism, the station was taken out, he said.
Russell doesn't have illusions about the need to maintain the Wallace Marine Park station. She wants to put out between 15 and 20 jackets at each park.
"Eventually, they’ll be vandalized, they’ll be stolen,” she said.
So she's stepped up to look after the Wallace Marine Park and Keizer Rapids Park facilities and make sure they stay stocked with the life-saving devices.
The GoFundMe account has surpassed its initial monetary goal for life vests and other resources, but Russell since raised the goal to $2,000.
She hopes the money can pay for building materials for the life vest kiosk. The two signs she bought for the Wallace Marine Park and Keizer Rapids Park life jacket stations were around $530, she said, and life jackets run about $20 each.
But money isn't the issue here. “You can’t undo drowning,” she said.
She and her husband, Ryan, a Battalion Chief with the Keizer Fire District, will likely end up building the permanent Wallace Marine Park kiosk. And she has determined whatever she doesn't raise she'll "pay out of pocket."
"I'm not going to quit doing this," she said.
You can donate life jackets to Russell's cause at the Keizer Fire District at 661 Chemawa Rd. NE in Keizer.
Find the GoFundMe page, here.
Send questions, comments or news tips to firstname.lastname@example.org or 503-399-6714. Follow him on Twitter @JonathanMBach.
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