Missing Yakima boy sparks discussion about park safety

YAKIMA, Wash. — There’s still no sign of 4-year-old Lucian Munguia, who went missing more than two weeks ago from Sarg Hubbard Park, but his disappearance has sparked discussions about park safety across the city.

KAPP-KVEW spoke with Kellie Connaughton, executive director of the Yakima Greenway, which includes 20 miles of trails and several parks, including Sarg Hubbard Park. She said they’ve been fundraising for safety improvements like additional lighting for a while.

However, she said those improvements likely would not have helped in this case, which occurred before the sun had set. And with the organization relying on limited funds from private donations, she said adding new security cameras is not on their list.

Connaughton said anyone interested in helping contribute money to their capital campaign to include putting additional lighting at their parks can email info@yakimagreenway.org or donate here.

Yakima City Council member Holly Cousens said while the city doesn’t own the park where Lucian went missing and police don’t suspect foul play, the safety of city-0wned parks has been at the forefront of her mind.

Cousens said without knowing what happened, it’s difficult to try and determine if there are any improvements the city could make to its own parks that would help if a similar case happened again.

“Unfortunately, in today’s world, we can’t say this will never happen again,” Cousens said.  “But we can take steps to ensure that we as a city are doing the best we can to ensure that our parks are as safe as they can be for the people that want to use them.”

In 2018, two teenagers were killed months apart in separate incidents at West Valley Community Park, sparking a discussion about what the city could do to help prevent any future incidents.

“A lot of people in the West Valley district were really like…this is not okay. Our kids walk through that park to come to and from school. We need to ensure the safety of our children,” Cousens said.

Cousens said they held a public forum for the community to express their concerns and began to make improvements to West Valley Community park and others across the city.

“We’ve upgraded all the lighting in the parks that we have to LED lights which are very bright and allow our police department to be able to see into the park in the evening hours,” Yakima Parks & Recreation Manager Ken Wilkinson said. “We’ve trimmed up some of our trees so that the sight line into the parks is also better.”

Wilkinson said anyone concerned about park safety should go as a group, stick together and keep a look out for one another. He said people who want to make parks safer should consider joining the City of Yakima Parks & Recreation Commission.

Cousens said she’ll be making a motion at the council meeting Tuesday night to hold a future study session about park safety.

“Right now, our job should really be supporting the family and understanding that Lucian is still missing,” Cousens said. “And we don’t have an answer as to why.”