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Public Safety

Effort Underway To Build Bridge In Mission Trails Park After Hiker Drowned

Cooler, breezier weather on Saturday, May 30, 2020 in San Diego's Mission Trails Regional Park.
KPBS Staff
Cooler, breezier weather on Saturday, May 30, 2020 in San Diego's Mission Trails Regional Park.

If Balboa Park is the jewel of San Diego, the vast Mission Trails Regional Park is the city’s “diamond in the rough.” One thing that makes the park so beautiful is the fact a river runs through it — the San Diego River.

So beautiful, and yet here, for hikers, bikers and anyone else traversing Jackson Crossing, there is danger. On Jan. 29, an attempt to cross the river turned deadly for 21-year-old Brown University student Max Lenail.

Effort Underway To Build Bridge In Mission Trails Park After Hiker Drowned
Listen to this story by John Carroll.
21 year old Max Lenail is shown in this photo on April 15, 2020.
Lenail Family
21 year old Max Lenail is shown in this photo on April 15, 2020.

“It was his third run at Mission Trails as he was training for an ultra-marathon with his brother,” said Max's father, Ben Lenail.

Max Lenail knew what he was doing. But an unusually strong rain and hail storm had whipped up quickly leaving Max with a choice; he could either cross the river and get to shelter in his car five minutes away, or he could go back the way he came.

But that would be six miles in a hailstorm. So, he decided to cross.

All these weeks later, Ben Lenail and Max's mother, Laurie Yoler, received the medical examiner’s report on Friday, and with it confirmation of what happened to their beloved Max: He drowned.

“He tried to cross at the crossing and basically was kept under the surface by the current in some sort of eddy or whirlpool," said Ben Lenail.

Effort Underway To Build Bridge In Mission Trails Park After Hiker Drowned

Now Ben Lenail and Yoler are turning their grief into action. With the help of the San Diego Foundation, they’re raising money to build a bridge over the crossing.

“We’re so adamant that something has to be done to make it safer, or someone else is going to face a similar tragedy,” Yoler said.

The fact that a bridge is needed here is not news to groups associated with the park. Yoler said the Mission Trails Regional Park Foundation has been pressing for one for at least 10 years.

RELATED: Family: Body Found In Mission Trails Park Is Missing 21-Year-Old

“But, they had said there was not enough funding to go forth with the project and that’s why we want to help rectify that situation," she said.

They figure it will cost $2 million. The goal is to have the bridge completed in three years.

“We’re righting a wrong here. We’re making sure that no other family will have the same experience,” Ben Lenail said.