By Kathi Bliss
I think that anyone with a heart was rightfully taken aback a little bit on Sunday morning when the news broke that a young woman was found dead at one of the tubing outfitters in Martindale. It’s a horrible, tragic story, and certainly, my heart goes out to her family and her friends. Things like that shouldn’t have to happen to a girl so young, so beautiful and, by all accounts, so full of life and promise.
I caught some social media backlash for my initial take on the matter, which was to express disappointment and upset that the outfitters have increased their body count – just when we almost made it through the summer without any tubing-related deaths on the San Marcos River. People, it seems, thought that I was placing blame on the victim, or maybe not as sympathetic as I should have been. That couldn’t be further from the truth.
I’m disgusted, and I’m heartsick. We should all be.
The more information comes out about this story, the more clear it becomes that what the residents of Martindale have been complaining about since the outfitters opened their doors is shockingly, glaringly true. The outfitters don’t appear to have much regard for the safety of their patrons – or, apparently, anyone else.
The latest reports coming out of Guadalupe County reflect that the young woman was hit by the bus and dragged up to 500 feet. Mind you, this is the same bus that the driver said was experiencing technical problems; it’s the bus that outfitters chose to unload the students from, transfer them to another bus, and leave parked where it was until morning, when they could go fix whatever the problem with the brakes might have been. They left it there until morning, when, in addition to fixing the bus, they found the body.
I can’t understand how that happened, and the fact that I can’t understand makes me angry.
I can’t speak for anyone else, but when I’m driving, I’m aware if I bump a curb while I’m parking, or if I accidentally nick another car in a parking lot. And as we all know, these things happen. I’d like to think that I’d be aware if I hit a human being, and dragged her 500 feet.
It leaves me wondering how the driver could have not known what happened. Was the bus driver impaired, distracted, or just careless? These are questions I hope the investigation can clear up, because from where I’m standing, it just doesn’t make sense. And I can’t imagine what it looks like from where that girl’s family and friends are standing – nor do I want to imagine it.
Season after season, year after year, area residents raise complaints that the outfitters have cultivated the reputation that the San Marcos River through Martindale is an absolute free-for-all. It’s billed as “the” place to be, for the best parties of the summer. To tell the truth, it is. I’ve spent a great many hours on the San Marcos River throughout the course of my life. But honestly, I can understand stand why river residents are complaining. The cost in human life seems to be higher than it should be – and the residents lay the responsibility for that at the feet of the outfitters, who they say don’t seem to care a fig about the safety of their patrons – or anyone else.
Yes, I understand it was a tragic accident, and yes, I understand that accidents happen. But the atmosphere that’s been cultivated on the San Marcos River seems to be a breeding ground for accidents, and that’s proven every summer – every single year – as the body count increases. Often, these tragedies can be pointed at something the victim did, or did not do. In this case, the investigation seems to be saying that the driver, either through action or inaction, shares in the blame.
I know that the neighbors want to have a better perception of the outfitters, but at some point, they outfitters will have to responsibility for that. They’re going to have to prove they want to want to work to change it; they’re going to have to figure out a way to keep lining their pockets, without putting young lives at risk.
And it’s time that the communities that surround them bring enough pressure to bear to force them to do so. After all, given the routes the buses travel, that accident could have just as easily happened to a neighbor, a child – someone in no way involved in any activities at the camps themselves.
It’s time for a Water-Oriented Recreation District. It’s time for us to push that. It’s time for us to come together and understand that the reason we don’t have a WORD out there is because we, the people who want it most and would benefit from it, have been blocking it. The WORD didn’t get out of committee during the last Legislature because there were people that didn’t want it unless it had a can ban included.
But ultimately, the can ban is a separate issue, which the Legislature can’t wrap into the WORD in the opening stages. The WORD is an important first step, and we all have to come together and insist that our Legislators make it happen. Our roads, our emergency services, and quite literally the safety of every single person who lives in, works in, or visits Martindale is at stake here. The outfitters have proved it. They have absolutely proved that safety is secondary, and that they aren’t going to make changes, unless someone forces their hand.
It’s time to push for legislation to force their hand.
It’s time, now… before the body count climbs any higher.