Boy, worker swept to deaths as storm tears across state

Man missing, another hurt as rising water hits repair crew in Woodlawn culvert

November 20, 2003|By Frank D. Roylance | Frank D. Roylance,SUN STAFF

An 11-year-old North Baltimore boy walking home from school and a worker repairing a culvert under Interstate 70 in Woodlawn were swept to their deaths yesterday as heavy rains and thunderstorms toppled trees, tore off roofs, and turned urban streams into raging torrents.

Another worker on the Woodlawn repair crew was missing and presumed dead last night, while a third was rushed to St. Agnes Hospital Center. His condition could not be determined.

The child, identified by police as Darryl McTier Jr., of the 6000 block of The Alameda, was walking home from school when he was caught in swollen Chinquapin Run. Firefighters found his body wedged in rocks about 300 feet south of Woodbourne Avenue, said Baltimore Fire Chief William J. Goodwin Jr.

The three men repairing the culvert in Woodlawn were carried off by a flash flood that washed them into Dead Run. Rescuers found the man who died more than a half-mile downstream.

"It takes very little water to sweep someone away. If it's ankle-deep, you're in trouble," said Elise Armacost, a spokeswoman for the Baltimore County Fire Department.

In Carroll County, high winds tore the roofs off a 200-year-old home and barn in Uniontown.

"The roof came off like it was opened by a can opener," said the owner, James Wiles. "This is the worst I've ever seen it."

The National Weather Service said a line of severe storms and heavy rains that had caused trouble south and west of Maryland crossed the state early in the afternoon ahead of a strong cold front.

More than a half-inch of rain fell at Baltimore-Washington International Airport between 2 p.m. and 3 p.m., said meteorologist Howard Silverman of the weather service's forecast office in Sterling, Va. By 8 p.m., 1.25 inches of rain had fallen.

About 2:30 p.m., water began rising in a half-mile-long concrete culvert that runs beneath I-70 in Woodlawn, east of the Beltway.

Fire officials said three men, part of a 10-person crew employed by a private contractor, were making repairs inside the 6- to 8-foot- diameter pipe when a sudden rush of water knocked them off their feet.

The torrent carried them downstream into Dead Run, which leads to the Gwynns Falls.

Authorities said searchers found the first victim dead in the stream about 15 minutes later, at least a half-mile from the culvert. Co-workers pulled the second man from the water about 45 minutes after the incident. Rescuers immediately began cardiopulmonary resuscitation and took him to St. Agnes HealthCare.

Search dogs and water rescue teams from the city and Baltimore County tried in vain to find the third man before suspending the search at 5:30 p.m. The effort will continue today.

Officials declined to release the names of the victims pending notification of their families.

About 10 minutes after the Baltimore County incident, Darryl McTier, a sixth-grader at Chinquapin Middle School in Baltimore, reportedly was walking home with friends when he dipped a foot into Chinquapin Run and slipped into the water near Northwood Drive and the Alameda. According to school officials, one friend dialed 911 on his cell phone, while the other ran to the school for help.

Firefighters eventually spotted his body south of Woodbourne Avenue and scrambled down a steep, wooded bank to reach him. Battling rushing water up to their necks, they pulled the boy from the rocks about 4:15 p.m. and covered him with a sheet.

Fire and police officials said they were investigating how the boy got into the water. There was no immediate word on the cause of death.

"We're still piecing it together," said Goodwin, who was at the scene yesterday evening. "It's hard for anyone to understand the force the water generates. It looks benign. But a small stream in this kind of weather can become a small rapids. Things swell rapidly."

According to his family, Darryl, the eldest of four children, had two passions in his life: football and video games. He was a linebacker, running back and safety on his youth league football team and was gearing up to play in a big playoff game on Saturday, said his mother, Joyce McTier, 36.

He dreamed of playing professional football and often watched Baltimore Ravens games with his father. His favorite player was linebacker Ray Lewis.

"He was an athletic kid," his mother said. "He loved football. That was his thing."

Darryl often ran errands and did other chores for his parents, sisters and brother.

"He was really mature for 11," Joyce McTier said. "He was dependable."

Bonnie S. Copeland, the Baltimore school system's chief executive officer, said Chinquapin Principal Esther Oliver told her that Darrell always took the same route home from school.

Copeland called the death "heartbreaking," but praised the boys who summoned help. "I compliment those young men for being so responsive and responsible," she said.

Grief counselors were to be at the school this morning to help students and teachers deal with their emotions, Copeland said. "This has to be just devastating for everyone involved."

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