Shane Jenkins smiled and winked at his girlfriend, Amy Williams, as he left to go on an ATV ride Sunday morning.
Jenkins, 17, and Williams’ 14-year-old brother where riding on a trail familiar to both of them, near Easton in Eastern Washington.
“We’ve been on quads so many times, those same roads over and over again,” Williams said. “He was always so careful.”
About 10 minutes after they left, they got on a call from Williams’ younger brother.
There had been an accident. Jenkins had been thrown from his ATV.
“He lost control. It’s not a smooth road, it’s rough and he just lost control of it,” Kittitas County Undersheriff Clayton Myers said. “And unfortunately the area where he lost control, it just drops right off and goes into the trees.”
Jenkins died from internal injuries, Myers said. The teenager was wearing a helmet.
Jenkins “was one of those kids you never forget,” said Sally Cassidy, a school counselor at Explorer Middle School in Mukliteo, where he went before attending Sequoia High School in Everett, where he was a junior.
“When you talked to Shane the conversation always turned out to be fun.”
He often would come to the office during lunch time to “just to talk to adults,” said Ali Williams, school principal.
“He really enjoyed adults,” Cassidy agreed. “Shane was mature in many ways beyond his years.”
Maureen Malley, who taught Jenkins a basic algebra course at Sequoia, said he talked of someday working with machinery and perhaps learning to become an underwater welder.
But the focus of his life was his 5-month old daughter, Emma Janine Marie Jenkins, born Dec. 21. “He lived for her,” Malley said.
“That was the love of his life – his baby was his crown,” agreed his mother, Linda Jenkins. “It was his mission to make her happy.”
A memorial service is planned from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday at Langus Riverfront Park, 400 Smith Island Road in Everett. In lieu of flowers, the family is considering starting a fund at a local bank in Emma’s name.
Jenkin’s death comes at a time when both the popularity of ATVs and the number of children injured while riding the recreational vehicles are increasing.
“ATVs are dangerous, even for the most experienced and safety-conscious rider,” said Shawneri Guzman, a trauma data analyst at Providence Everett Medical Center and a coordinator for Safe Kids Snohomish County.
“It’s one more sad reminder of how important safety is.”
During the past two weeks, three children age 14 and under have been treated at the Everett hospital for ATV injuries, she said.
Last year, from April through September, the hospital treated 15 children injured in ATV accidents who were 16 years old and younger, Guzman said. That was an increase of 45 percent over the past three years, she said.
With ATVs, which are three- or four-wheeled off-road motorcycles, becoming increasingly popular, more people are riding them near their homes, she said.
Yet fewer kids being treated for ATV injuries are wearing helmets, Guzman said.
“I think that’s where decreased helmet use comes in,” Guzman said. “It’s like they’re riding a bike.”
Families often don’t see ATV riding as something that’s inherently risky, said Dr. John Bennett, medical director of Valley General Hospital’s emergency room in Monroe.
“What we see is maybe two of these accidents a week, adults and kids.”
Nationally, the number of ATV-related deaths in children younger than 16 has increased five of the last six years since January 2001, hitting the high of 181 in 2004. Deaths declined to 111 in 2006, according to the federal Consumer Product Safety Commission.
Of the 146,600 people treated in emergency rooms for ATV injuries in 2006, 27 percent, or 39,300, were children 16 and under.
In Washington, 20 children age 16 or under died from ATV injuries between 1982 and 2002.
Laws are in place to encourage helmet use. Everyone riding an ATV is required to have a helmet, regardless of age, said Rebecca Hover, a sheriff’s office spokeswoman. Those cited for a violation can face fines of up to $124.
When patrolling Reiter Pit near Gold Bar, deputies often see parents and kids riding double, with the kids on their back. Sometimes the parents have helmets and other safety gear, but the kids don’t, she said.
The adult can be fined if the child on their ATV isn’t wearing a helmet, she said.
“Wearing a helmet is absolutely essential; it saves brain matter,” said Cindy Coker Medical Service administrator of the Monroe Fire Department.
“It should be like wearing a seat belt,” she said. People can recover from broken bones, she said, but head injuries can affect a person for the rest of his life.
Dr. Brian Johnston, chief of pediatrics at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle, said about 50 kids are treated at his hospital each year for injuries from by ATV accidents.
But those numbers don’t really reflect how many children are being injured in the region, he said, since some children also are treated at local hospitals.
These children often have to be treated for head, neck, spine, foot and hand injuries. “Any time the vehicle flips, and a leg or arm gets trapped under it, there’s a risk of burns as well,” he said.
“We see a lot of impalements and penetrating injuries from stumps and branches,” Johnston said.
Johnston questioned whether children younger than 16 should be allowed to operate ATVs, a stance taken by some medical groups, such as the American Academy of Pediatrics.
“I understand kids like it,” Johnston said. “But there’s a lower limit in terms of age, strength and ability where kids aren’t equipped to operate an ATV. They don’t have the experience needed to do that.”
However, local youth and recreation groups in Snohomish County don’t necessarily agree.
They say “safety first” is the motto for their rides, requiring kids to wear safety equipment.
About 50 children between the ages of 8 and 18 in Snohomish County learn safe riding techniques through a 4-H program known as Mudslinger.
Kids are required to wear helmets, goggles, gloves, a long-sleeved shirt, pants, and either motorcycle or heavy work boots, said Marilyn Stout, a coordinator of the 4-H ATV clubs in Snohomish County.
“Our kids don’t ride unless they wear that gear,” she said. Chest protectors and knee pads are optional.
“When you’re on a machine with an engine, you’ve got more speed and go,” she said. “You need head protection. There’s too many things that can happen.”
Phil Noon, a board member of the Puget Sound-based Northwest Quad Association, agreed.
“Every one of us believes in using safety gear and helmets at a very minimum,” he said.
Yet he said he didn’t think age alone should determine when children should begin learning to ride.
Some of the best professional riders began riding at age 5, he said.
More important, he said, is parental supervision, having the necessary safety equipment and knowing a child’s abilities.
ATVs come in sizes, Stout said, with different weights, engine sizes and body shapes. The 4-H program will not allow a small child to ride an ATV that’s not appropriate, she said.
Safety skills are taught not just in classrooms, but through real-world experiences on trails and obstacle courses, which teach them how to maneuver the machines.
“There’s four wheels; they are tippy,” Stout said.
Yet some people have ridden accident-free for years and years, she said.
“You’re out there to have fun,” Stout said. “When there’s an injury or loss of life, it’s so hard to accept that.”
Reporter Sharon Salyer: 425-339-3486 or email@example.com.
ATV safety classes
The first in a series of free ATV safety classes for children and their families begins at 9 a.m. Sunday in Smokey Point.
Participants need boots with ankle support, full-fingered gloves, a long-sleeved shirt and long pants. Helmets and eye protection will be provided.
The classes, held monthly through December, are funded through a grant from the national 4-H Council and the ATV Safety Institute of America.
Call Snohomish County 4-H at 425-357-6044 to register.