Hugh Michael O’Neil helped to rescue Janet E. Lewis and Velma M. Shidler and died attempting to rescue Ronald D. Rotruck from a cave-in, Akron, Ohio, July 21, 1964. Mrs. Shidler, 48, with her daughter Claudia and Janet E. Lewis, 13, in the rear seat of her two-door sedan, was driving on Tallmadge Parkway when a section which had been weakened by water from a break in an underground storm sewer caved in under them. The sedan landed on its back end in an almost vertical position with the roof against the sloping wall of a crater 30 feet deep and 20 feet in diameter. Claudia fell through the rear window, but Mrs. Shidler drew Janet into the front seat and called for help. A number of motorists, including O’Neil, 19, student, had stopped at the scene. O’Neil volunteered to go to the aid of the sedan’s occupants; and an 18 -foot ladder, attached to a rope tied to a truck, was lowered into the crater. With a rope tied around his waist and held by several other men, O’Neil descended the ladder, dropped 13 feet to the floor of the crater, and made his way around the perimeter to the sedan. Rotruck, 27, police patrolman, arrived, noted the situation, and asked for a rope. Two ropes were tied together and then around the waist of Rotruck, who also descended the ladder. O’Neil forced open a door of the sedan and removed Janet. As O’Neil carried Janet to a longer ladder which had been lowered nearer the sedan. Rotruck made his way around the perimeter to the automobile. Because Janet’s injuries prevented her holding to the ladder, O’Neil removed his rope and tied her to the lower rungs. Men at the surface raised the ladder and then re-lowered it after removing Janet. Meanwhile Rotruck had helped Mrs. Shidler from the sedan. O’Neil moved to meet them and aided Mrs. Shidler, who told them there was another person to be rescued. While O’Neil took Mrs. Shidler to the ladder by which she was raised to the surface, Rotruck returned to the sedan. As he looked about for Claudia, water began to bubble up on the floor of the crater, causing some sliding of the sandy soil. Rotruck called out that his feet were stuck. The men tried to pull him free, but his rope gave way. Rotruck sank to his knees and, as the water receded with a loud suction sound, was pulled downward to his waist. At Rotruck’s call for help, O’Neil moved to within 12 feet of him. A second surge of water caused further slides, and O’Neil’s legs sank in the wet sand. With the recession of the water O’Neil was pulled rapidly downward to his chin, while Rotruck sank to his chest. Men swung the longer ladder by its rope to O’Neil, who briefly grasped it before he was pulled under. Firemen arrived, but by the time one man reached the bottom of another ladder lowered near him Rotruck also had been pulled under. More of the pavement later gave way, a heavy slide occurred, and the water dislodged the sedan. Mrs. Shidler and Janet were hospitalized and recovered. The body of O’Neil was drawn into the storm sewer and carried through it to a river bank, while the bodies of Claudia and Rotruck later were recovered from the crater.
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