NewsTeam 10 Investigates


Documents: Bridge proposal at Mission Trails Regional Park goes back nearly a decade

Max Lenail died while trying to cross the SD river
Max Smith Rock Fall 2020.jpg
Posted at 5:00 PM, Feb 16, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-16 22:50:31-05

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) -- The parents of a 21-year-old man who died in an accident at Mission Trails Regional Park said they are surprised talks of a pedestrian bridge have been going on for years.

Max Lenail went for a run at Mission Trails on January 29th. His parents said he slipped and drowned while trying to cross the San Diego River.

The loss of their son is an unbearable pain they must live with every day.

“We told him every day that we loved him,” said his father Ben Lenail. “He was the kind rare 21-year-old who insisted on talking to us every day.”

“[Max] and I were very, very close,” said his mother, Laurie Yoler, holding back tears. “We spoke every day.”

Lenail and Yoler believe their son’s accident may have been avoided if a bridge had been built there. They are now devoting their time and effort to make a bridge a reality.

A bridge is in Mission Trail Regional Park’s Master Plan, but Team 10 learned conversations about it are not new.

According to minutes from the Citizen’s Advisory Committee, a bridge was asked to be given “a higher priority” in 2010.

It seemed money stalled any future project. In November 2010, the Deputy Director of Open Space said “there is no funding for the engineering and design.”

In the summer of 2011, a committee agenda showed one planner believed “a cable suspension bridge seems feasible.” Former San Diego Mayor Dick Murphy—who was on the committee at the time—said the “proposal may be too costly to ever build a bridge.”

By the end of 2011, “momentum was lost” in part due to a backlog of other projects, according to the committee’s minutes.

Lenail and Yoler have been in contact with new Councilmember Raul Campillo, who represents District 7. They were told that a new bridge could be an “eight-figure project.”

While Max’s parents said conversations with the city have been transparent, the proposed amount in the tens of millions of dollars is troubling to Max’s parents.

Lenail and Yoler said they are both willing to donate a significant amount of money and gather donations for a bridge.

“Is the impetus of our son dying on that path going to make them move this forward? You know, we're trying to better understand why wasn't something built there?” Yoler said.

A spokesperson for the City of San Diego released this statement regarding the bridge’s history:

“There have been numerous discussions regarding the construction of a bridge spanning the San Diego River over the years both informally and as part of Mission Trails Regional Park Citizens’ Advisory Committee meetings. As previously mentioned, the construction of a bridge is currently identified as part of the Park Master Plan. The implementation of such a project is dependent on a variety of issues including identifying appropriate funding, whether the bridge should be usable by both pedestrians as well as vehicles and what impacts the construction will have on the surrounding infrastructure, wetlands, and sensitive habitat, among others. Discussions related to the bridge construction will continue.”

Team 10 also questioned why there was no signage warning people about the water’s dangers.

A City spokesperson said there is a marker that “notifies visitors of the depth of the water in the middle of the seasonal trail and that “all MTRP park maps currently identify all the marked trails in the park.”

There is no timetable as to when a bridge will be built, according to the city.

“If somebody else dies, there will be potential for a claim that there was ample warning and that the City should have moved on building a footbridge a long time ago,” Lenail said.

The couple will be speaking at the Citizen’s Advisory Committee meeting next month.