Anthony Widmer knows to stay away from the neighborhood retention pond. So, last Thursday, when his 5-year-old sister Ellie went under the surface when trying to retrieve a ball, he felt like he was living a nightmare.
“I can't imagine if I lost her,” says the softspoken 9-year-old.
Anthony jumped in to save his sister, but couldn't keep her head above water and was struggling to keep himself upright as he waited for help.
“She was too heavy for my arms, so I was holding her with my knees,” he said. “The water was up to my chin. I thought, if I keep on my tippy toes, I won't die. But I would never leave my sister.”
A neighbor, Jansy Peternell, whose children were out playing around the pond as well, jumped in and saved the brother and sister.
“Who knows what would’ve happened If I had waited another minute to go check on those kids,” she said.
Su Widmer is eternally grateful to her neighbor, but equally angry at the City of Renton and King County. She says neighbors have complained for years, asking for the pond to be fenced, but it never happened. Warning signs aren’t even posted.
“If not for Jansy it could be a different story,” she said. “I could be planning a funeral.”
There are thousands of retention ponds all across King County - hundreds of them unfenced. That’s for a variety of reasons, including how many people live nearby and how steep the slope is leading into the water. While neighbors may not consider the unfenced ponds safe, most, if not all, are compliant with the local codes.
Officials at Renton City Hall say even before last week's incident, they've been working on a city-wide review of retention ponds.
Spokeswoman Preeti Shridhar acknowledges that "up to code" may no longer be “up to standard” for city leaders.
“There are areas we've inherited that are strictly speaking "by the code" and "under compliance," but we want to take that extra step for safety.”
Decisions on which, if any ponds will be fenced by the city will come in the weeks ahead, says Shridhar. In the meantime, Su Widmer admonishes her kids to stay away from the water, and is planning swim lessons for them. Until a fence comes, though, she will wait and worry.
“Someone will die here. My kids almost died. They’re priceless to me.”