Death prompts boy's Clinton family to collect life jackets

Jacqueline 'JJ' Edwards holds the life jacket and football helmet of her stepson, Elijah Gene Spratt, who drowned in a river in Arlington on June 30. He was in the care of his foster family at the time.
— image credit: Ben Watanabe / The Record

Like he had many times before, on June 30 Elijah Spratt went swimming.

This time, however, the 10-year-old Clinton boy was pulled under by the powerful current of the Twin Rivers Park in Arlington.

He wasn’t wearing a life jacket and drowned.

His stepmother and father believe Elijah would be alive if he was wearing a personal flotation device, or PFD.

“He died doing what he loves the most,” said Jacqueline “JJ” Edwards, Elijah’s stepmother.

During a family outing last year, Edwards recalled tubing on a river in Leavenworth. Her tube was attached to Elijah’s by a carabiner, they got stuck on either side of a large rock with the current pulling them against it. She recalled panicking and Elijah telling her to be calm, then pushing his tube off the rock toward her, freeing them from the current’s force.

“I think back to that day and how calm he was,” Edwards said.

“That boy was a fish.”

“I know in my heart that if Elijah would have had the opportunity to wear a life jacket June 30, he would have.”

Instead, Elijah was submerged for nearly an hour before rescue workers recovered him from downriver, near Haller Park.

He is survived by his father, Daryl Imburgia, Edwards, and siblings Alyscia Spratt, Treyson Imburgia, Jaxon Imburgia and Makaelynn Imburgia.

“The pain of losing a child, there’s so much hurt, pain, guilt and confusion, lots of confusion for his dad and me,” Edwards said.

It’s grief that spurred Elijah’s family in Clinton into action. Kelsey Greene photo / Elijah Gene Spratt

Edwards joined with Amy Jacobson of Lake Stevens to collect life jackets, PFDs and donations to buy more that can be placed at Twin Rivers Park and possibly Deer Lake someday.

Jacobson was at the park the day Elijah drowned.

Edwards estimates she has enough cash donations to purchase 200 new life jackets, and at least 100 donated PFDs were gathered.

At a booth created at the last-minute at Choochokam Arts in Langley this past weekend, 45 PFDs were donated.

During an interview at Freeland Park, a woman noticed Edwards and handed her two life jackets, one of which was a child’s PFD.

The life jackets range from new to used.

Edwards and Elijah’s family don’t care, though. They will accept any and all PFDs and plan to have them inspected before they are taken to the parks for use.

Elijah’s family remembered him as also a solid linebacker during his only season with the South Whidbey Youth Football League. He helped the midget team of 9 and 10 year olds win the conference’s super bowl in November, the league’s first ever.

“He was one of the reasons we were able to stop Anacortes in a playoff game,” said Jordan Nelson, Elijah’s football coach.

“He might not have been the biggest or the strongest kid out there, but he’d hold them.”

Elijah had a “tenacity,” Nelson said, that made him an ideal linebacker. Being new to the organized team sport, lining big No. 35 - Elijah’s jersey number - upright behind the defensive linemen allowed Elijah to see the play develop. It also let him stuff the play at the line or not far beyond it.

“Elijah was more heads-up,” Nelson said.

“Having that to play off of and go behind someone, at one point we had him blitzing off the nose tackle.”

The South Whidbey midget division football team plans to attend Elijah’s memorial wearing their jerseys.

Shortly after the season ended, Imburgia turned over custody of his eldest son to the state. It was while in the care of a foster family that Elijah drowned in Arlington. He lived with foster parents there since December.

Even with their memories of holding Elijah in the hospital and trying to warm his body, Edwards said she and Elijah’s father try to remember the best about the boy’s life: His smile, his “electric” blue eyes and his willingness to help and please them, or as Edwards called Elijah, “my little helper,” who would do dishes with her, open doors for the family and help with groceries.

The family is grateful to the emergency responders who searched for Elijah, for the efforts to revive him, and for Burley Funeral Chapel.

A celebration of Elijah’s life is 3 p.m. Sunday, July 14 at Daryl and JJ’s home, 4261 Campbell Road, Clinton. Cash donations made be made out to "In memory of Elijah Life Jacket Fund" at Wells Fargo.

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