Family wants answers after girl falls down beach cliff

Family wants answers after girl falls down beach cliff
Tonya Martone and her boyfriend Joe Baker revisit the area where Martone’s daughter, Lilly Velarde, fell during a beach walk in Carlsbad on Sept. 4. Lilly suffered major lacerations to her face, chin and knee and a minor concussion, forcing her to miss a week of school, Martone said. Photo by Aaron Burgin

CARLSBAD — A Carlsbad mother is asking the city of Carlsbad to put up signs on a coastal bluff top warning hikers of a potentially dangerous cliff after her 11-year-old daughter was seriously injured when she fell down the cliff a week ago.

The only problem, Carlsbad officials said: it’s not their bluff.

The land in question is a stretch of coastline directly across the street from the NRG Power Plant.

Tonya Martone and her boyfriend Joe Baker took Tonya’s daughter, Lilly Velarde, out for an evening walk on Sept. 4, south along Cannon Road from their home to Coast Highway 101, where they walked north toward the beach.

They walked along the west side of the street until a dirt path broke away from the street toward the beach. That path breaks off in two directions, both toward the beach, where the edge of the dirt path blends seamlessly into the Pacific Ocean, giving no indication of the peril beneath the horizon.

“You can’t see that there’s something very dangerous at the end of the pathway,” Joe Baker said.

At the bluff top’s edge is an 80-foot slope, which then abruptly stops six feet above the stone-strewn beach below.

The three decided to traverse the slope down to the beach when Lilly lost her footing on sandy hillside, and tumbled down the hill before falling off the hill to the stony beach below, Baker and Martone said.

“It all happened so suddenly, she was behind me and then she was hitting the edge of the hill and bouncing down to the beach,” Tonya Martone said.

Lilly suffered major lacerations to her face, chin and knee and a minor concussion, as well as a secondary infection to her knee, forcing her to miss a week of school, Martone said.

“If this were an elderly person or someone younger, this could have been a lot of worse,” Martone said. “But she’s my baby, and it hurts me to see her in such pain.”

Baker and Martone said they’ve tried contacting the Department of State Parks and the city of Carlsbad about the incident, but haven’t received a response as of yet.

The two led a reporter on a walking tour of where the accident occurred, and pointed out that just 200 feet to the right of the hill where Lilly slipped, there is an unofficial sign warning people to stay along the path.

“But if you’re coming from south and walking north to the beach, you don’t see that sign,” Baker said. “No one is walking all the way up just to read the sign and come all the way back.

“There needs to be something big, right in front of the hill that’s bold and tells people, ‘Danger,’” Baker said.

In addition to the sign request, Baker said they are asking that Carlsbad defray the costs of Lilly’s medical bills.

“We don’t want to sue anyone or get lawyers involved,” Baker said. “We live here, we love Carlsbad. But we do want to make sure nothing like this happens to anyone in the future, and we think it’s only fair that someone helps us with the medical bills.”

The Coast News reached out to Carlsbad regarding the incident, and city spokeswoman Kristina Ray said that Carlsbad does not own the top of the bluff or the hillside where Lilly’s accident occurred.

NRG, the owners of the Encina Power Station just east of the bluff, own the bluff and hillside, and the state owns the beach below, Ray said.

Carlsbad has an agreement to take ownership of the land from NRG in the future, but the two entities haven’t executed the agreement, Ray said.

The Coast News made contact with NRG spokesman Dave Knox the morning of Sept. 13. He said the company was looking into the incident and would respond later, likely after the time of publication.

When asked how she would proceed now, Martone said she wasn’t sure.

“I guess we are going to have to talk to the company,” Martone said. “Whoever owns the property needs to know that it is dangerous and they should put up a sign.”

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