Many years ago the couple lost a 3-year-old son in a fire in Navy Housing in San Diego. And 10 years ago this month, they lost a beautiful daughter who fell at Sunset Cliffs.
Kristan Wagner was a well known, well liked, resident of the beach area. She graduated from Mission Bay High School and went to school to become a hairdresser. She started her career in Bay Park working at Salon by the Bay, but later moved to Ocean Beach. She “knew” everyone, and “never met a person she did not like.”
She frequently walked at Sunset Cliffs. But on Nov. 30, 2008, Kristan was found dead at the bottom of the cliffs near Carmelo Street, only a half mile from her home on Orchard.
When trying to piece together the reason for her fall, the consensus was that the day she went walking was a wet, misty day.
There was a pole at Sunset Cliffs Boulevard and Carmelo Street that was supposed to keep walkers on the street side. The thought was that Kristan reached out to the pole to swing herself onto the cliff side and she lost her grip because the pole was wet.
No one saw her fall, but this scenario was what the medical examiner could come up with.
The Wagners were devastated by their loss and a call from Michael Aguirre made them realize that the City needed to erect a permanent barrier at that site – and many others – so that other loved ones would not have to go through what they were going through. Aguirre was the friend who told the Wagners how to go about getting that life-saving barrier.
They did not want any money for their loss. What they did want was a barrier put up along Sunset Cliffs to save other’s lives. They realized that it might cost money to file a lawsuit against the City, but three attorneys stepped up and said that they would handle the case pro bono.
(Bob Wallach, an attorney from the Bay area, Robert Dyer and Richard Rice, from San Diego, were the three attorneys who were instrumental in finally getting the City of San Diego to install the current wooden protective barrier.)
I talked to Wallach, and about the Wagners, he said: “The Wagner family was so marvelous that they seemed unreal. I wanted these people to be fairly treated for a loss that could not be replaced. I wanted to prevent a recurrence knowing that it was unlikely to be successful.”
And they tried. It took six years for that barrier to be erected. The case even went to the Court of Appeals with the argument that barriers are needed to prevent other deaths.
Finally, after years of discussion, the City agreed to place the barrier along the street to the specifications of Bob Wagner, and the attorneys agreed that they would not take any pay for their effort.
Marie told me that everyone that she met in all of the offices were very kind; very helpful; and wanted to do “what was right.”
The Wagners remember Kristan at every holiday, every possible occasion that she would have celebrated if she were here. As an Irishwoman, there are a lot of holidays to celebrate.
The plaque dedicated to her memory, which is attached to that barrier at Sunset Cliffs, frequently has fresh flowers around it.
As the anniversary of Kristan’s fall approaches, the Wagners will remember her with flowers at the plaque again. Bob told me that he very gingerly places the flowers himself; even with the barrier there, he says that the cliffs are unstable, and he wants to keep Marie safe from harm.
The loss the Wagners suffered is unimaginable, but we owe them a “Thank you” for persisting in making the area safer for everyone else. What a shame it couldn’t have been erected before Kristan’s fall and saved her life. Their tragedy has aided the rest of us.
RIP, Kristan. You have not been forgotten by your parents, or the entire Ocean Beach community.