Skate parks are not day care

In The Case of the Skate Park Dad, it seems to us that reasonable people can agree on two things: 1.) Skate parks are not day-care centers, and 2.) allowing kids to play unsupervised in a public park on a Sunday afternoon usually does not warrant a felony prosecution.

Medford resident Daniel R. Willis, 44, dropped off his sons, ages 6 and 9, at the Bear Creek Skatepark for about two hours Oct. 14. While they were there, the younger boy fell and struck his head. A passer-by found him vomiting, recognized the symptoms of a head injury and summoned help — at least half an hour after the boy fell.

As it turned out, the boy, who was wearing a helmet but may not have fastened the chin strap, apparently suffered no lasting damage. His father, however, could face charges of first-degree criminal mistreatment, a felony, and second-degree child endangerment, a misdemeanor.

It ought to be obvious that a skate park — a concrete bowl in which kids fly around on wheeled boards — is inherently more dangerous than, say, the wooden climbing structure across the park, or even traditional playground equipment such as slides and swings. It also ought to be obvious that a public park, even in the safest of neighborhoods, may not be the best place for young children to spend time alone.

At the same time, even if the dad had stayed with the boys while they skated, it's entirely possible that the accident would have happened anyway. The presence of a parent doesn't magically alter the laws of physics.

A parent, however, would have made sure the boy's injuries were treated immediately.

It's easy to point fingers after the fact. But the reality is, good parents make poor decisions all the time without any serious consequences. In fact, the boys in question had played unsupervised at the skate park before without incident.

The younger boy's close call should cause his parents to adjust what they allow their sons to do. Certainly they exercised poor judgment. But was it a criminal offense?

Oregon law leaves that decision up to the district attorney's office. It's also possible that state child welfare officials could become involved, with or without criminal prosecution.

If any punishment is warranted here, it should amount to no more than a fine and a stern warning against repeating the mistake. A felony charge seems out of line.

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