Las Lomas Deaths Alarm Community

Las Lomas Deaths Alarm Community

On Wednesday, Feb. 23, the Las Lomas community gathered at the Shell Ridge Open Space for a candlelight vigil where they walked one of the boys’ favorite trails.

Hannah Tennant, Editor-in-Chief

Juniors Gavin Powell and Matthew Miller drown after rafting during a storm in Walnut Creek

On the night of Wednesday, Feb. 23, hundreds of Las Lomas students, family members, and Walnut Creek community members showed up at the Shell Ridge Open Space and walked a mile-long loop, candles in hand. They gathered to honor the passing of Matthew Miller and Gavin Powell, two juniors at Las Lomas High School who were pronounced dead on Sunday, Feb. 20 after attempting to raft down the rain-swollen waters of Walnut Creek.

As the crowd returned to the trailhead, they began cheering and yelling into the night sky. The display was a refreshing break from the somber procession that was expected; instead of wallowing in grief, the community seemed to be celebrating in these boys’ lives. This attitude continued on Tuesday at Las Lomas, where the student body donned bright yellow to honor the boys instead of the traditional black.

On Saturday, Feb. 19, the boys began rafting on their inflatable raft near Murwood Elementary School around 2:00 p.m. Their bodies were found about a mile apart near Buchanan Field in Concord Sunday afternoon. They did not wear life vests, but they did wear helmets. Their causes of death have been listed as drowning.

Miller’s funeral took place on Thursday, Feb. 24, which would have been his 17th birthday. During the funeral, the Millers’ home was burgled. It is unclear whether the burglars were aware of the circumstances. A public memorial service was held for Powell on Saturday, Feb. 26. Miller had a public memorial service on Sunday, Feb. 27.

A Facebook page was created in the boys’ honor, and it has served as a forum for classmates and relatives to post memories. One student said, “No words can describe how amazing you guys were.”

This is not the first time that the waterways of Walnut Creek have taken lives. This past April, a man and his son, Jim and Tim Hogan, died after a car accident in which their vehicle was submerged in the same creek. In 1973, two teenage boys, also students of Las Lomas High School, died when trying to raft the creek. The situation is eerily similar, and begs the question, what must be done to prevent this terrible accident from occurring again?

Julie Bueren, the Contra Costa County Public Works Director/Chief Engineer, issued a “Creek and Channel Safety” staff report to the Board of Supervisors for a meeting on March 1.  This report stated: “We believe that the best way to prevent this type of incident from recurring is to continue to communicate the hazards associated with our channels to the community. This would include CCTV, school districts, and Press Releases. Following a drowning accident in 1991, the message ‘Stay Out, Stay Alive’ was painted in large red letters at prominent locations on the walls of our large concrete channels. These signs could be part of our outreach message.” It is estimated that somebody dies in the creek once every 20 years, though in the past year, four people have died.

Miramonte is no stranger to tragedy; there is a student death once every three or four years, on average. In order to prevent history from repeating itself, it is imperative that these deaths are not trivialized, and that communities take steps to educate citizens about the mistakes made. Had Powell and Miller been fully familiarized with the incident, their fates may not have been as tragic. These instances are not a smattering of unrelated, unfortunate mistakes, but a string of poor decisions that point to a larger overall problem in the community. When young lives are taken away, it must not be in vain.