Surfin’ in the Sewers
As a kid we used to try and get into the tunnels in downtown Casper that used to connect a lot of the businesses. That experience doesn't even touch an Ohio teens experience. An overflowing creek in a Cleveland suburb sent a 14-year-old boy on the ride of his life.
Jeffrey LaPorta traveled more than a quarter of a mile Tuesday through multiple storm sewer pipes, at times completely submerged in water, before finding enough breathing room to await rescue. He was eventually pulled out of the sewer in less than an hour, with only scrapes and bruises.
"It was kind of like a waterslide," Jeffrey said in an interview Friday with The Associated Press. "But like the waterslide was like very, very steep and went about 20 miles an hour."
The teen was riding his bike with a friend through puddles created by the rising creek, which flows near a strip mall parking lot in Parma. He fell into the overflowing water just off the edge of the parking lot and was forced into a drain pipe — roughly 2 feet in diameter, authorities said.
"The water was moving so quickly it sucked him into the drain," said Doug Turner, a spokesman for the Parma Fire Department. "It sucked him in and pulled him probably 100 yards, full of water, where he couldn't take his breath."
Jeffrey said he held his breath for what felt like two minutes, as his body flipped around in the pipe.
"I was face first, then I was feet first, and then I was side first," he said.
The pipe carried Jeffrey underneath the parking lot and into the suburb's storm sewer. He was then shifted into pipes that grew increasingly larger, Turner said. "Now the same amount of water is flowing through there with a little bit bigger of an opening, so his head actually bobs above water a couple times."
The pipes sent Jeffrey under four lanes of traffic, placing him across the street from where he was riding his bike.
The water eventually became waist-deep. And Jeffrey said he grabbed a handle along the wall in the sewer.
"I just grabbed it and I heard people: 'Jeff, Jefff, Jefffffffff," and I saw a light and I'm like 'Oh my God. Thank you, Jesus," he said.
Turner said the boy traveled about 1,500 feet from where he initially started.
The distance came as a shock to Jeffrey. "I thought I traveled only 20 feet," he said.
Jeffrey's friend, Miguel Torres, said he didn't see Jeffrey fall into the water because his back was turned. He turned around and noticed his bike in the creek.
"I heard a splash," Miguel, 13, said in an interview. "I ran over to the creek and started looking for him. ... At first I just thought he was stuck underwater or something. I didn't really think about."
Miguel then got the attention of a city worker, who had just arrived at the parking lot to check out the flooding. The worker contacted authorities, and firefighters from a station across the street from the parking lot headed to the scene.
I didn't know what to do at first," Miguel said. "If that city official didn't drive by, I don't know what I would have done."
Responders teamed up the city worker and others who had knowledge of the sewer system. Firefighters then began searching for the boy downstream, uncovering at least six manholes and calling out Jeffrey's name before they heard him respond.
"One of the firefighters climbed down into the manhole, started flashing the light around and could see the kid, but he was quite a bit away," Turner said. "He just said, 'Hold on, we're coming to get you.'"
Jeffrey was pulled to safety and taken to a hospital, where he received six stitches on his elbow. He was released that evening.
The teen was out of the sewer 43 minutes after authorities got the call — and 20 minutes of that time, they knew he was safe.
"It's a miracle that the kid was even alive, let alone hardly hurt at all," Turner said.