As a parent, it’s hard to imagine anything more devastating than the loss of a child. That’s what makes Sweet Home resident Rachel Maynard’s story so remarkable.
Last July, Maynard was at Lewis Creek Park with her family and friends when tragedy struck. Her son Zachary and his friend Kennedy Swenson, both 6, were playing in Foster Reservoir when a jet ski came barreling into the roped-off swimming area and struck the two children. Witnesses reported that Zachary saw the out-of-control watercraft coming and tried to push his playmate out of the way. Both children were badly injured and were rushed to the hospital by helicopter. While Kennedy eventually was discharged to continue her recovery at home, Zachary didn’t make it. He died three days later.
The operator of the watercraft, a 23-year-old Salem resident, was not charged with a crime in the incident. An investigation determined he was not intoxicated. The young man had taken off his life jacket, which was equipped with an emergency shutoff switch, and laid it on the jet ski’s handlebars. The weight of the flotation device on the throttle caused the watercraft to take off unexpectedly, throwing the operator off and leaving him with no way to stop the runaway vehicle.
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Zachary’s death could have left his mother paralyzed by grief. Instead, she found a way to channel her sorrow into a project that honors his memory.
As reported by Caitlyn May in Sunday’s editions of the Albany Democrat-Herald and Corvallis Gazette-Times, Waterloo County Park was one of Zachary’s favorite places to play. He and his younger brother, William, particularly enjoyed the tunnel slide — they would station themselves at either end of the tunnel and holler at each other through the tube. But the playground had been repeatedly targeted by vandals, and the play equipment was falling apart. Maynard called the county parks department several times to complain. Parks and Recreation Director Brian Carroll enlisted her help with a project to design a new play area for the park, and eventually she filled an open spot on the Linn County Parks Board.
That was weeks before Zachary’s death. No one would have blamed Maynard for pulling out of the project, but she stuck with it. On May 6, her efforts were rewarded when the new playground was dedicated at Waterloo County Park and children, including William, swarmed over the colorful new play structures.
“It’s beautiful,” Maynard told the newspaper. “It’s for kids 2 to 12 and you can see your kids from every angle of the park, which is big for me as a mom.”
Meanwhile, the Linn County Board of Commissioners has funded another project with kids in mind: a heavy-duty security barrier around the swimming area at Lewis Creek Park. “It’s designed to protect dams from terrorist attacks,” Maynard said. “It will stop a 27-foot boat and get it from 60 miles per hour down to zero in half a second.”
Zachary, sadly, won’t be around to enjoy the new playground at Waterloo or reap the benefits of the new safety measures at Lewis Creek. But his memory lives on in both projects, and the strength that his mother found in her sorrow serves as an example to us all.