Leaf-collection practice under discussion after girls' deaths

The pile of leaves was huge, said Susan Dieter-Robinson.

"Huge. It was dry. Who doesn’t play in that? I’ve received notes: ‘My kids were playing in the leaves just like yours. We wanted to take pictures too.’”

On the evening of Oct. 20, sisters Anna Dieter-Eckerdt, 6, and Abigail Robinson, 11, were struck and killed by a motorist while playing or hiding in a leaf pile on the street outside their Forest Grove home.

In an interview with the News-Times last week, Susan Dieter-Robinson, Anna's mother, said she wasn't angry at God. Nor was she angry at the driver for accidentally hitting the girls.

“I think I’m angriest at the city of Forest Grove for the policy of putting leaves in the street,” she said. “And I desperately want to change that. Because they’re still on the street in front of my house. When we clear up the memorial and they clean up those leaves, they’re going to put them back in that spot."

Forest Grove City Manager Michael Sykes said he has talked to Public Works Director Rob Foster about the issue.

“We’re going to examine how we do that and see if there’s another way,” Sykes said. “We’re interested in doing whatever we can to minimize risk in the streets."

He's just not sure a different method is possible.

The leaves can’t be left for pickup on the grassy strip adjacent to the curb, he said, because the city's vacuum truck is so powerful it would suck up the grass and dirt along with the leaves.

And the city needs that powerful vacuum in order to offer free leaf pickup, Sykes said. “That’s why we’re able to do the whole city in no time at all.”

Other cities all do leaf pickup the same way, he said, but people with ideas about how to change the system should call him at 503-992-3234 or Foster at 503-992-3228.

Most people have happy memories of playing in fallen leaves, said Sykes, although he doesn’t discount the potential danger.

Dieter-Robinson herself saw two children pop out of a pile of leaves where they’d been hiding as she drove home from work just a week before the accident. She stopped her car and warned them not to hide in leaves.

And the Dieter-Robinson household isn’t the only family to suffer a leaf-related tragedy., which investigates Internet claims to separate fact from fiction, posted a “Fallen Like Leaves” entry in 2006, verifying a 2004 Massachussetts tragedy in which two girls, 8 and 10, hid in a leaf pile in front of their home in order to surprise the older girl’s father when they saw him driving home from work. According to Snopes, the unknowing father drove directly into the leaves to park, crushing the two girls and killing one.

Snopes has already added to that entry with, “Another leaf pile tragedy played out in Forest Grove, Oregon, in October 2013 …”

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