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Would-be train hopper may lose legs

Crews from the Spokane Valley Fire Department work to free an 83-year-old man from a trench that collapsed in the 10900 block of East Empire Avenue on April 5.
Crews from the Spokane Valley Fire Department work to free an 83-year-old man from a trench that collapsed in the 10900 block of East Empire Avenue on April 5.

A group of people was waiting in a car at a railroad crossing on Fancher Road near Felts Field on their way to lunch Monday when they saw a man trying to hop onto a slow moving train.

“They saw this gentleman running alongside the train,” said Spokane Valley Fire Department Assistant Fire Marshal Bill Clifford. They lost sight of the man as the train clanked slowly by. The train was stopping to change crews, Clifford said. “All of the sudden the train stopped and they could hear him yelling for help,” he said. “The crew that was on the train didn’t have any idea they had run someone over.”

The man had slipped and fallen under the train. Clifford said his legs were nearly severed between the knee and the ankle. “I think the reason they weren’t is because he was wearing jeans,” he said.

There wasn’t much the paramedics could do for him, Clifford said. “We try to do the best we can with splinting and packing,” he said. “He needed surgery immediately.”

The scene was somewhat gory and was one of the worst traumas he’d seen, Clifford said. “We’re definitely not doctors or surgeons, but I don’t see how they could reattach his legs,” he said. “There was just too much damage.”

There have been several cases of severe injuries or deaths on railroad tracks in the Valley in recent years, Clifford said, though at least one death was deliberate. He urged people to stay away from the tracks that crisscross the Valley. “Number one, it’s trespassing,” he said. “Number two, it’s just not safe to be around there.”

During the week of April 4-10 crews also responded to a trench rescue in the 10900 block of East Empire Avenue. The walls of a trench collapsed around an 83-year-old man April 5, burying him up to his chest, Clifford said. His daughter dug out some dirt so he could breathe and then called for help.

It took crews nearly an hour of digging with hand tools to free the man. “He was putting in a sewer line for his daughter,” Clifford said. “It’s just one of those things. You don’t think it will happen to you and it did.”

Crews responded to a total of 251 calls during the week, including 206 emergency medical services calls. Four illegal yard waste fires were reported, along with a suspicious fire at Barker High School at 2:36 a.m. on Tuesday. The fire was confined to a newspaper drop box outside the school, Clifford said. “Somebody decided they wanted to light that on fire,” he said. Anyone with information on the fire is asked to call the department at (509) 928-1700.

What turned out to be an overly large campfire was reported on Green Ridge above Liberty Lake the evening of April 6. The department received several calls reporting smoke and flames. “It looked like they lit a bunch of pallets on fire,” he said.

There were also 17 car accidents reported during the week; three people had to be taken to the hospital.

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