San Francisco Chronicle

April 14, 1987


Skateboardings's Fatal Attraction
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The emphasis is on safety as students at Presidio Hill School watch a skateboarding demonstration

Six deaths make safety the big issue


San Francisco's first two skateboarding fatalities have given impetus to a campaign to make the popular urban sport safer. The most recent death was on April 2. Seven-year-old Alfonso Leyva was killed when he and his board slid under a truck at 24th and Alabama streets in the Mission District.

"The boy's head was crushed," said Dr. Steven Hirschfeld, chief resident in pediatrics at San Francisco General Hospital.A month before, on March 3, 15 year-old Jacesohn Welden died of cerebral trauma, also at S.F. General. The coroner's office

said the youth was found unconscious near his skateboard in the 200 block of Tocoloma Avenue in Visitacion Valley on February 25. He never recovered, from a fractured skull. The deaths followed at least four other skateboarding fatalities in the Bay Area in the past year.

We're seeing a lot of severe injuries from skateboarding hereat the county hospital, at least one a week," Hirschfeld said. "What's my advice? Wear a helmet."

The same warning was given to 50 children at the Presidio Hill School last Friday in a session devoted solely to skateboarding safety. The kids first saw a videotape on safety, then were treated to a dazzling exhibition of skating, free-form bike riding and skateboarding in the back yard of their private elementary school at 3839 Washington Street.

"Some old ladies see a kid coming towards them on skates or a board and they think, 'This guy's out of control,' " said show organizer David G. Miles, 31, who has been a member of the Golden Gate Park Skate Patrol for nine years. "We want to change that negative, skate and destroy image."

Beginners always should wear a helmet, elbow pads and knee pads, said Ken Takeda, 21, member of a team called the Skatch, wiping the sweat off.his face after doing some daring jumps and a handstand on his board or "stick.". "You've got to be alert to your environment," said 23-year-old Nathan Burris, who picks up tips entertaining tourists. "You've got to pay attention to cars, pedestrians, other guy's on bikes.". However careful one is, accidents are inevitable, the children were told.

"After a while, you learn how to fall," smiled Ondreea Powers, 20,.a student at Laney College. Powers said she and her friends like to practice on the smooth, fenced-off stretch of pavement just inside Golden Gate Park at Sixth Avenue off Fulton. "I got hurt just last Sunday," said, Powers. "Five of us were heading for a ramp, and the guy ahead of me caught his foot. He fell pretty bad and I fell on top of him. I bruised and scraped my leg. It's still very stiff."

Nonetheless, she danced on skates to a tape of Madonna's "White Heat," and afterward several little girls came up to get her autograph.

Complaints from elderly San Franciscans about reckless skateboarders have decreased since Supervisor Willie Kennedy tried unsuccessfully last September to ban the boards from residential sidewalks, city officials said. "Since then the skateboarding community has been fairly successful in policing itself, and we have had less complaints," said a Kennedy aide, Minnie Loo.

"The climate is better," agreed Tom Jennings, 31, who heads a skateboarding club called Shred of Dignity. "We're teaching kids courtesy, getting them to call something like "On your left!" when passing pedestrians instead of scaring them," said Jennings, who often uses his skateboard to get around town.

Miles said his team will give another "demo" at 1:45. p.m. on April 23 at Alamo Square on Fulton Street in the Western Addition. Interested schools can contact him at the Outdoor Recreation Association, 1627 48th" Avenue. .The phone is 681-7948.