A 12-year-old boy was hospitalized in serious condition when a pickup truck hit him on the Salmon Falls Bridge. The boy, according to news accounts, was getting ready to jump off the bridge. The bridge is very well known in the area as a place where children come in the summer for the excitement of leaping from a height of over 20 feet into the water. The town has issued citations, but has not created any type of obstruction to prevent children from jumping from the bridge.
An investigation into this matter will likely occur to determine whether the driver of the truck was exercising adequate caution. One issue that will need to be addressed is whether the driver knew the area was frequented by children and, if so, whether he was exercising extra caution. Maine law requires that if a driver is aware that children are playing in an area near a road he exercise reasonable caution by, among other things, reducing his speed and/or keeping a vigilant lookout for children. This situation is similar to drivers seeing children riding bicycles along a road. Under these circumstances, reasonable care would require the driver to proceed at reduced speeds that would permit the driver to avoid a collision if the child were to accidentally swerve out into the road.
Another issue that will likely be investigated is whether the State did enough to prevent children from being injured by what was clearly known to be a potentially dangerous attraction. Maine law requires owners of property to exercise reasonable care to prevent harm to children by having something on the property that would attract the children and cause potentially serious injuries. Although this particular bridge was used for generations as a popular place to jump, it would need to be determined whether modifications to the bridge design could have enabled this past-time to occur while, at the same time, reducing the possibility of children being hit by oncoming vehicles.
The bridge has signs posted on it indicating that jumping is prohibited. However, officers have stopped issuing summonses because the York County District Attorney’s Office decided not to prosecute the young jumpers for criminal trespassing, according to news accounts. As a result, children have congregated on the bridge in increasingly frequent numbers, something that is well-known to drivers in the area.
A 2006 article in the Portland Press Herald indicated that local and county authorities were aware that there had been an increase in the number of children congregating on the bridge and were often running across the bridge in order to jump out further. The article referred to this as a “dangerous mix”. Here again, any investigation into the matter will likely seek to determine whether more should have been done to prevent this dangerous mix from causing injury to children and whether the driver of the truck that hit the 12-year-old had knowledge of what was occurring when he entered the bridge that day. It is interesting to note that the Press Herald article from 2006 specifically quoted one official as having stated, “One of these days, somebody is going to get hurt really badly.”
A few years ago, officials from the towns and the Maine Department of Transportation met to discuss possible ways to prevent unnecessary injuries to the children. The options discussed included installing a pedestrian path on the side of the bridge and erecting a fence high enough to discourage jumping. However, nothing was done. Unfortunately, it may take an incident like this to finally get something done to prevent future injuries to children.