August 7, 1996 in City

Co-Worker’s Instincts Saved Friend From Further Harm Park Worker’s Quick Reactions Kept Woman From Getting Crushed By Boulder

By The Spokesman-Review

As a boulder crashed toward his unsuspecting friend, J.R. Gifford reacted instinctively. He grabbed her and pulled.

“I didn’t think until it was basically all done,” Gifford said Tuesday.

Ginni Blackhart, 19, said she’s glad Gifford’s instincts took over at Riverfront Park on Monday afternoon. His quick actions likely saved her life.

The 26-year-old maintenance worker pulled Blackhart out of the path of the half-ton rock that likely would have crushed her.

The two were working Monday afternoon with three other park employees to dig a trench near a retaining wall made of rocks and boulders when part of it gave way.

Despite Gifford’s efforts, Blackhart was pinned in the debris for nearly an hour before being rescued.

The 1995 graduate of Ferris High School suffered a broken right femur and was recovering Tuesday at Sacred Heart Medical Center.

“I really don’t remember much. It happened so fast,” said Blackhart, who credited Gifford with saving her from further harm.

Riverfront manager Hal McGlathery on Tuesday called Gifford a hero.

“There’s no doubt, from observations, that this was a lifesaving act,” McGlathery said.

Gifford, grinning shyly, brushed aside the praise. “I just reacted the way I hope someone would react for me,” he said.

Blackhart, a psychology student at Eastern Washington University, said she was confident she would survive the ordeal.

“Everyone was working really hard and making sure everything was safe,” said Blackhart, who was comforted during the ordeal by her co-workers, including her sister, Kristan.

The state Department of Labor and Industries launched an investigation into the accident Tuesday, McGlathery said. A report is due later this year.

Meanwhile, park officials are discussing tearing down the rest of the wall, which was built during the remodeling for Expo ‘74.

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Photo

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