A 14-year-old boy fell off his bike near the edge of a creek and travelled more than a quarter of a mile through the storm sewer system in Parma, Ohio, during a recent storm.
Jeffrey LaPorta was riding his bike in the rain with a friend, splashing through puddles created by a rising creek near a shopping center, when he rode into the deep creek bed filled with rainwater.
“The creek runs next to a parking lot,” says Doug Turner, public information officer for the Parma Fire Department. “As the creek overflowed, the water flowed into the parking lot. He was just riding through the parking lot in 6 inches of water assuming that was safe. At some point he rode off the parking lot and into the creek and into the drain that runs horizontally. The creek runs underneath the parking lot.”
Turner says the stormwater current carried the teenager was dragged 1,500 feet into the 36-inch storm sewer, where he was completely submerged at times. He was able to stop himself near the exit point where the pipe transitions to 4 feet in diameter, and was able to find breathing room to wait for rescue workers.
He was in the sewer for 43 minutes from the time the fire department received the call to the time he was pulled out. “For 20 minutes of it we knew he was safe,” says Turner, “but the first 20 minutes we had no idea if he was alive.”
“It was a combination rescue effort,” says director of public service Brian Higgins. “The public service department was there because they are familiar with where the storm sewers flow and which direction they flow, and which manhole covers to pull. So a few service department workers actually located him by yelling into a manhole. The fire department made the rescue.”
LaPorta told local Fox 8 Cleveland news that as he was carried down the pipe he thought to himself, “I don’t want to die here at 14 years old.”
Turner says LaPorta is lucky to be alive because he was completely underwater. “He didn’t even know there was a pipe there where he went in because it was so full of water,” he says.
This is not the first time children have ended up in the storm sewer system, says Turner. “This has happened in our city before and the outcome was not nearly as good,” he says. “In the years I’ve worked for the department, we’ve had a few kids that have actually drowned.”
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To prevent future incidents like this, Parma officials are taking precautions. “The building commissioner and engineer will take a look at the location where it occurred and make a recommendation to the property owner,” says Higgins.
Unfortunately, the only warning at this location is a “No Dumping” sign. Maybe the city will take notice and either fix the problem or at least put a sign up to warn citizens of potential injury during flooding.
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