The accessibility ramp at the Valemount Community Hall.
The accessibility ramp at the Valemount Community Hall.

The Village of Valemount is looking into making the accessibility ramp at the Community Hall safer after an accident on May 18 left two people injured.

“Since the incident our public works superintendent, building inspector and senior staff have been working to find a remedy for the steps and make the area safer,” Mayor McCracken wrote in an email statement to the Goat.

Bob Beeson, 98, had just arrived at a family birthday party and driven his scooter to the top of the ramp, when a wheel slipped off the narrow landing toppling him down the steep stairs, according to a number of witnesses.

“I had to go around the door because it wasn’t quite open,” Bob said. “The door should be open as far as it goes.”

Dorothy Wakelin said she was standing on the landing as Bob was trying to navigate around the partially-opened door, and saw his wheel slip off the landing. Instinctively, Wakelin grabbed the scooter to try to stop it from falling down the stairs.

“I knew the minute I grabbed on I had to let go,” Wakelin said. “I’m pregnant, and I’m going to seriously hurt myself, I thought.”

The scooter was turned by Wakelin’s effort, however, and instead of tumbling down backwards, slid on its side all the way down.

“It didn’t look like he hit his head at all going down the steps,” Wakelin said, “until the bottom, and that seemed like slow motion”¦It sounded horrible.” Wakelin said she saw Beeson close his eyes after hitting his head and feared the worst.

Beeson was taken to the McBride hospital and kept for 24 hours surveillance, said Kathy Beeson, Bob Beeson’s daughter.

“I got hurt all over, but I didn’t break a bone,” Bob Beeson said. He said he wanted to leave the hospital as soon as possible. “The doctors said as soon as you can walk, so I grabbed my cane and showed them I could walk, and back I come.”

“Mr. Beeson’s been in Valemount forever,” Wakelin said, “He’s an icon “¦ it could have been completely worse. We were very fortunate.”

Wakelin herself sustained injuries from trying to prevent the scooter from going down the stairs, but thankfully not to her front side.

In letting go of the scooter, Wakelin lost her balance, fell down a few stairs and was pinched between the railing and the scooter. She still has bruising on her left leg and hip as well as her right arm. Ultrasounds confirmed that her baby was unharmed, but the incident has caused her a lot of stress, she said.

“The doctors have been more concerned about my mental state than the baby,” she said. “Stress for a pregnant woman is very unhealthy.”

Since the incident, Wakelin, who grew up in Valemount but now lives in Rainbow Lake, Alberta, has lead a crusade to draw attention to the dangerous landing atop the accessibility ramp. Having worked for a municipal government for the past five years, she knows that documentation is the key to bringing about change, she said.

“If you have no documentation, there’s nothing to go back on. If that door had been opened all the way, Mr. Beeson wouldn’t have fallen, and who’s to say that hasn’t happened before?”

Wakelin said she has been in contact with Chief Administrative Officer of the Village, Anne Yanciw, and is writing a letter describing the incident. Wakelin was informed that once the Village receives the letter, they can use that in hopes of applying for an accessibility grant.

“Now that we are aware of this issue at the community hall, we will look for grants that allow us to remedy the area,” Mayor McCracken wrote in an email.

McCracken wrote that the long term solution involves rebuilding the steps and expanding the landing, which the Village is currently “trying to rationalize with their public works plan.” A short term solution, which the Mayor admits is “not great,” is to post signs of the hazard, though by press time no signs had been posted.

The construction of the ramp predates the current staff at the Village, Mayor McCracken wrote, so whether or not it complied with safety regulations at the time of construction is unknown.

“In terms of what is required for new buildings, it is certainly not up to code, and as demonstrated, it is simply not safe enough.”

In the meantime, the Mayor urges residents to be cautious using the ramp.

The outcome of the incident could have been far worse, Beeson and Wakelin admit, but both have escaped relatively unscathed. Beeson is happy to be out of the hospital and back on his scooter.

“That’s the end of the road for seniors, so I said get the hell out of here, I’m going home.”

By: Thomas Rohner