Conor's Bill would require those 15 and under to wear helmets while skateboarding

Conor Irwin flashes a thumbs-up with his signature bowtie. (Photo courtesy of the Irwin family)
Conor Irwin flashes a thumbs-up with his signature bowtie. (Photo courtesy of the Irwin family)

Ledyard — When 14-year-old Conor Irwin died after a skateboarding accident just over a year ago, the Ledyard community was left reeling.

But today the always polite, affectionate and kind-hearted boy with a bowtie is still making a difference.

Last week the General Assembly's Transportation Committee held its first public hearing on a bill that is at least partially constructed in memory of Conor. It's a bill that legislators say they are confident will come to fruition.

SB 290, also to be known as Conor’s Bill, is part of a larger transportation bill that among addressing other road safety concerns, would require children to wear a helmet while skateboarding.

Modeled after a bicycle law, the skateboard helmet law would apply to children under the age of 15. However, the goal is to make the rule apply to all children under the age of 18, said state Sen. Cathy Osten, D-Sprague.

“All of the committee is considering moving the bill forward,” Osten said. “From my perspective, this provides another tool in parents’ toolboxes to protect children, and that is exactly what this is all about so not another family has to go through the loss of a child.”

On Nov. 25, 2016, while cruising on his longboard, Conor Irwin fell and severely damaged his brain. Ten days later he died at the Connecticut Children’s Medical Center in Hartford.

After his death, members of the Ledyard community rallied in a variety of ways to commemorate a son, brother and friend. Then in May 2017, the fourth annual Colonel Classic 5K Road Race was dedicated in Conor’s memory as well.

But there was also one other effort dedicated to Conor that ended up carrying his story all the way to the state Capitol.

At the race, Holly Robertson Irwin, Conor’s mother, spoke of helmet safety, and she continued to spread that message well after the event. Irwin would share Conor’s story any time she saw a child skateboarding without a helmet, and beyond that she began visiting skateshops in Connecticut, Massachusetts and Rhode Island.

At the shops, Irwin asked managers and staff if they were having conversations with everyone they sold boards to about owning a helmet, while also sharing her son’s own experience. And for the most part, most of the shops were very receptive.

“If I don’t go and speak in his name I feel like I’m letting him down, and I can’t let him down,” said Irwin. “I don’t want my son to have died in vain.”

Eventually word of her efforts reached Hartford, prompting legislators to begin crafting a law and inviting Irwin to speak about the issue at a public hearing.

Irwin, who shared Conor’s story and photos of her son with senators last week in Hartford, said she felt they were very receptive, even more so than she expected, identifying as fellow parents. She also is very optimistic that Conor’s Bill — a name the legislators offered — would become a reality.

“It helps keep him alive for me and it reminds parents, and puts it out in front of them, that there is a law about skateboarding,” Irwin said, adding that many parents may not associate helmets to skateboarding the way they do to bicycles. “There is no way any mom should go through what I’m going through.”

c.clark@theday.com

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