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Boy, 15, Toppled Off Bridge By Train Is Rescued

Boy, 15, Toppled Off Bridge By Train Is Rescued image
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[image]  SCENE OF NEAR-TRAGEDY: John D. LaMay, 15, of 439 Third St., is shown on the safety platform where he fled from the 72-car freight train on the bridge. LaMay's 15-year old fishing companion, Robert Norris of Lodi township, was brushed by the train's locomotive and thrown into the Huron River, where he was rescued.

Pulled From Water Only Slightly Hurt

By Bill Treml

A 15-year-old Lodi township boy escaped death yesterday afternoon when he was hit by a railroad locomotive and knocked 45 feet off a bridge into water 25 feet deep.

Robert (Robin) Norris, son of Mr. and Mrs. James W. Norris of 4701 Saline Ann Arbor Rd., was reported in good condition at University Hospital this noon. He is recovering from body lacerations and bruises. A hospital spokesman said the youth may be released tomorrow.

The spectacular drama involving a thundering freight train, a terrified boy and a courageous rescuer began quietly enough about 2:30 p.m yesterday.

Boys Were Fishing

Young Norris and a companion. 15-year-old John D. LaMay of 439 Third St., were fishing off the railroad bridge which spans the Huron River just east of the 1000 block of N. Main St. Suddenly an Ann Arbor Railroad freight train appeared around a slight curve in the tracks. The LaMay youth later told Ann Arbor police:

“When Robin and I saw that big train coming at us we looked for a place to go—to get out of the way. But there wasn't any room to go anywhere We both started running east down the tracks—we could hear that freight catching up every second Robin passed me while we were running Then I saw a little platform attached to the tracks. I stepped onto it and called to Robin. But the train was making so much noise I guess he couldn't hear me. Then the train was roaring past me and I couldn't see Robin any more"

The engineer of the 72-car freight, Charles Nechvil of Owosso, told police he spotted the two boys on the tracks about the same time they saw the train. Nechvil, said he immediately slammed on his brakes in a desperate effort to halt the freight. However, because the tracks at that point are on an upgrade and it is necessary to apply almost full power to locomotives when pulling a heavy load, the engineer said he was unable to stop for some distance.

Police said the platform to which LaMay escaped is a standard safety section built on railroad bridges to prevent section hands from being caught in the middle of a span when a train is approaching.

Hears Boy Cry Out

At the time the near-tragedy was occurring on the railroad trestle, Jack Wirth, 27, of 1055 Longshore Dr , was working on a boat dock near his canoe livery not far from the railroad trestle.

"I was busy working and never even noticed these two boys on the bridge.” Wirth said. "Usually, whenever I see kids on that trestle I tell them to get off before they get hurt or fall. But all of a sudden I heard this boy cry out. I looked up and saw the train brush him. Then he was falling off the bridge, tumbling down toward the water. He, hit on the flat of his back and I thought: He must be dead. He’s been killed. But than he popped up out of the water and cried out again."

Wirth did some quick thinking in the seconds available to him. If he dived off the dock where he was working, he would have to swim at least 100 yards to where the boy was floundering. However, if he ran through his canoe livery office and around the building to the river bank, the distance to the boy would be less than 50 yards. Wirth made a dash through the office, throwing his billfold and watch on a desk as he ran.

Swims To Boy

At the river hank he dove head first into the water and began swimming, fully clothed and with shoes on, to the struggling youth When he reached him, young Norris gasped out: “Don't let me drown. Please don't let me drown.”

“I told him to relax, not to fight me. I told him I'd get him out of there," Wirth said.

Grasping the boy around the chest and under the arms, Wirth turned in the water and towed him to shore. When he reached the bank, Wirth picked the boy up in his arms and carried him to a spot near the office building Seizing a blanket, he covered him and put in a hurried call for an ambulance

The youth was the third person Wirth has rescued from drowning in the past 12 years.

At University Hospital doctors found the Norris boy had suffered no broken bones. Physicians decided he should be kept for a 48-hour observation period.

Ann Arbor police officers labelled the youth’s escape "a real miracle.” They said Wirth deserves “the highest praise” for his quick-thinking rescue of the boy.

Officers said if the locomotive had hit young Norris more than a glancing blow, he almost certainly would have been killed instantly. The fact that he was not knocked out or seriously injured when he hit the water 45 feet down is in itself remarkable, police noted.

[image]  Rescuer Jack Wirth