Sunday, August 23, 2009
Tragedy strikes state fair: Local boy killed by livestock in Ninilchik
By Joseph Robertia | Peninsula Clarion
The Kenai Peninsula State Fair returned to Ninilchik this weekend, and while it is usually a festive time, this year's event was marred by a tragedy that occurred early on Friday morning when Mathias "Matti" Martin, 9, of Kenai, was fatally injured while attending to livestock.
"He was grazing the family milk cow out on the fresh fair grass," said Mathias' father, Blair Martin, who with his family operates the Diamond M Ranch Bed and Breakfast, which houses numerous species of cattle, horses, llamas and other livestock.
The Martin's regularly bring animals to the fair to take part in 4-H festivities, and Mathias -- having grown up around livestock -- knew the dos and don'ts of how to handle animals. But, as young boys occasionally do, he showed a momentary lapse in judgement.
"He made the poor decision to tie the lead rope around his waist so he could free up his hands," Blair said.
Unfortunately, something spooked the large dairy cow and when it took off running, there was little Mathias -- at a fraction of the cow's weight -- could do to stop it or get away.
"She dragged him at her heels around the fair grounds," Blair said.
People in close proximity sprang into action, but by the time they could get the animal under control, Mathias has sustained numerous injuries, including several severe blows to his head.
"We checked for a pulse and there was one, but he wasn't breathing," Blair said.
Several off-duty emergency medical technicians at the fair began providing an initial treatment response until Mathias could be airlifted to Providence Alaska Medical Center in Anchorage via the LifeGuard helicopter.
However, his injuries were too extreme and Mathias was declared dead at the hospital. Blair and his wife, Ronna, made the decision to donate the boy's tissues, so that others could live through the transplants.
The family has been devastated by the loss of one of their own, but they are relying on their faith in God to get them through this tough time.
"His loss will leave a huge hole in our family. The whole dynamics of our family will change now," Ronna said.
"The pain of losing a son can't be described, but as personal believers in Jesus Christ, we know Matti is now experiencing peace," Blair said.
Blair is also doing his best to remember all the good times and positive attributes his boy had.
"He was just so vibrant, bouncy and full of life. Of our five children, he had the energy level of two of any of the other kids. He had a can-do attitude and was always excited about everything," Blair said.
On Saturday, like Blair, several friends of Mathias chose to console each other by sharing happy stories about their lost chum. A universal theme in nearly all of them was that the boy could barely be remembered wearing shoes no matter what he was doing -- from squirting other kids with milk from a cow's udder, to running around throwing a dried cow paddy like a frisbee, to retrieving his escaped pet rodent named Ratzer from somewhere it didn't belong.
"Matti was always an instigator of fun," said Nancy Veal, the boy's 4-H leader and a close family friend.
One of her fond memories of Mathias was from a camp a few weeks back, where children were encouraged to play hide-and-seek to demonstrate what they had learned during a lesson about animals using their environment to hide.
"Matti kicked off his shoes and scaled a tree to hide. He climbed so high the tree started to sway, and it gave him away. That wiry little guy was in a class of his own," she said.
Veal said she was sad Mathias couldn't see his 4-H Junior Market Livestock project -- raising several chickens -- to completion, because he was so excited to compete in the event for his first time. To honor his memory, the Junior Market Livestock auction on Saturday opened with a brief memorial speech to Mathias read by his 4-H friend Abi Daniels.
She opened by saying the boy embodied the 4-H pledge of giving of himself to make a better club, community, country and world. Daniels closed by stating, "Today you will see the heart of 4-H as we extend a helping hand, give hugs, shed tears and begin to heal as a family of 4-H."
Mathias' chickens were the first items up for auction and many bids came in, but in the end it was Kassik's Kenai Brew Stop that offered the highest amount -- $825.
Debara and Frank Kassik, owners of the Nikiski-based microbrewery, had gotten to know the Martin family very well over the years, as after fermentation they donate their used wheat and barley products to Diamond M Ranch to be used as feed for their livestock.
Mathias often tagged along on trips to help collect the grain and Debara said she bid on his chickens as part of keeping her word to the boy.
"The last time Matti and his grandpa came out for grain, he told me all about his chickens and he asked me to come and bid on them. I told him I would, so I did," she said.
Not everyone in attendance could meet or match the high bid, but they still wanted to contribute something in his memory. So after the auction closed, several individuals and businesses donated "add-on" bids, which amounted to several thousand more dollars.
The Martin's were not in attendance for the auction, as they were at home grieving for their lost family member and making funeral arrangements. But they said they know Mathias had a lot of friends in the community and they don't want to dissuade anyone who needs or wants to share a memory about him -- as part of dealing with their own grief -- from giving them a call.
"Some people have been scared to call, but it's OK for people to pick up the phone and reach out, even if it's to say they don't know what to say. It is their reaching out that matters and speaks volumes," Blair said.
Joseph Robertia can be reached at email@example.com.