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Lawsuit Granted to Proceed Over UCSB Student Death

A lawsuit filed after the death of a University of California Santa Barbara (UCSB) student was ruled to proceed last week by Judge Thomas Anderle. On May 4, 2015, Sierra Markee-Winkler “fell to her death from the cliffs of Sea Lookout Park in Isla Vista,” one year later, a lawsuit was filed by Siobhan Markee and Lon Winkler against “the County of Santa Barbara, Isla Vista Recreation and Park District, the Regents of the University of California, the State of California, and the California Coastal Commission for not ensuring the safety of the park they controlled where their daughter fell.” The lawsuit claims that there were no visible barriers preventing people from going to the edge, no warning signs, and no lighting for the area at night. 

The night before Sierra fell to her death, it has been reported that she was drinking and celebrating throughout the day at a festival and around 1:30 a.m., she got in an argument with a roommate.  She then left to calm down and later borrowed a woman’s phone to tell a friend that she was going to the park and that she was okay.  The following morning, a person found her on the beach below the park. 

The judge’s “ruling pertained to a motion made by the defendants who argued the plaintiffs’ claims were not substantial enough to warrant a trial.” The defendants did not believe that there was enough evidence saying that Sierra fell from the park.  In addition, they claimed that if Sierra did fall from the park, “the risk was obvious and they were not responsible for the park’s natural conditions and hazards.”

The judge allowed the case to proceed because of the presented evidence and “he suggested the park might not be considered natural, as the County of Santa Barbara had overseen significant changes to it.”  In the early 1980s, the county imported sand so that they could make the park more “beach-like,” which could have resulted in extra erosion.  Judge Anderle has ordered both parties to participate in mediation and according to the family’s attorney, “there will be a trial if the mediation does not result in an agreement.”

Since Sierra’s death, 10 people have fallen from the Isla Vista cliffs.  UCSB has created a $70,000 Community Fence Project to make the park safer and have more visible fences and signs.


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