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Man rescued from Deception Pass Bridge may face prosecution

A North Whidbey Fire and Rescue firefighter and a Washington Department of Transportation worker are lowered over the side of Deception Pass Bridge to retrieve two Mill Creek residents who attempted to cross the bridge along its underside girders.   - Photo courtesy of Jack Hartt
A North Whidbey Fire and Rescue firefighter and a Washington Department of Transportation worker are lowered over the side of Deception Pass Bridge to retrieve two Mill Creek residents who attempted to cross the bridge along its underside girders.
— image credit: Photo courtesy of Jack Hartt

A Mill Creek man may be facing charges from the Island County Prosecutor’s Office following a rescue from Deception Pass Bridge Friday that involved at least five public agencies and cost local taxpayers thousands of dollars.

According to Sgt. Jason Longoria of the Washington State Patrol, his department is considering forwarding a recommendation to the prosecutor’s office that Kyle Hufford, 25, be charged with reckless endangerment for his role in the June 18 incident, which also involved a 14-year-old boy. Island County Prosecutor Greg Banks said he would have to reserve comment until he received the referral.

“I can’t say whether these are realistic charges until I learn more details,” Banks said.

At about 6:20 p.m., Island County Sheriff’s deputies in a patrol boat traveling through the pass were alerted to trouble when passing boaters began waving frantically and pointing up towards the bridge. Sgt. Rick Norrie, one of the deputies on the boat, said he looked up to see Hufford and the boy on a girder underneath the bridge about mid-span.

“That’s about 145 feet up from the water,” Norrie said.

Although one of the two, and he could not say which, was making headway, the other was about 30 feet behind and frozen in place with “a death-grip” on one of the vertical beams. Norrie got on a loud speaker and instructed both to stop and remain where they were.

It wasn’t long before the bridge was crowded with emergency responders from at least five public agencies, including North Whidbey Fire and Rescue, the sheriff’s office, Washington State Patrol, Washington State Parks and the Washington state Department of Transportation. The fire department took command of the crisis.

According to Chief Marv Koorn, the decision was made to rescue the would-be daredevils with a bucket-truck. If that failed, Plan B was to belay over the side, secure the two with safety lines, then hoist them up.

“It sounds real simple, but it was only a three-hour episode,” Koorn said.

The bucket truck had to come from Everett, so Hufford and the boy couldn’t be lifted to safety until about 9:30 p.m. Other than coming up cold, due to the dropping temperature and hours of exposure, they appeared to have escaped injury, he said. They were checked out by emergency medical technicians and allowed to go home.

But while the two escaped injury, the incident was taxing for Island County residents. Koorn said the costs to his department alone topped $3,000. Adding up the costs of the other public agencies that responded, he estimated the entire bill at about $7,000.

But thanks to McDonald’s, at least the food was free. Kris O’Connor, wife of firefighter Jim O’Connor, said her husband sent her to get food for 20 to 30 responders because the incident was taking so long. The manager at McDonald’s donated all the burgers after hearing about the rescue effort.

Longoria confirmed that the bridge had to be completely closed for 50 minutes, and partially closed with just one lane open for another 30 minutes.

Deception Pass State Park Manager Jack Hartt said this isn’t the first time someone has tried to cross the bridge by crawling on its girders. While it’s not a common event, people have attempted it in the past, he said. It’s hard to give any exact figures as you only hear about the attempts that go awry.

“It probably happens more than we know about,” Hartt said.

Just this past May, a base jumper used the bridge as a jump platform. Base jumping is a type of low altitude skydiving. The man was able to land safely but Norrie happened to be nearby and witnessed the stunt. Norrie said the man was charged with reckless endangerment.

Koorn said Hufford should also be held accountable. At the least, he should have to pay for the public services that rescued them, he said.

“If nothing happens to these people it sends a message that there are no consequences,” Koorn said.

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