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Published: Monday, 12/9/2002

Hobbyist pulls teen from very real wreck

BY ERICA BLAKE
BLADE STAFF WRITER
The scene at the Deshler Model RR is very different from the one Bill Shaffer was at Saturday afternoon. The scene at the Deshler Model RR is very different from the one Bill Shaffer was at Saturday afternoon.
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DESHLER, Ohio - Bill Shaffer hadn't planned on watching train traffic Saturday afternoon when he ran into town to return a few videos.

But the train buff couldn't resist a quick trip to Crossroads Park in downtown Deshler, where train tracks from each direction intersect. After about five minutes, Mr. Shaffer was glad he made the trip.

“I heard over the radio, `Emergency. Emergency. Emergency,'” said Mr. Shaffer, 39, for whom rail watching is a serious hobby. “Being an amateur radio operator, I have all kinds of equipment. I heard the train crew on the scanner say they had just hit a car.”

Mr. Shaffer next did something he has never done before - he jumped in his car and headed to the emergency scene about two miles away.

Tricia Shultz's car had just been struck in the front driver's side panel by a train. As the crew slammed on the emergency system in the train, the 17-year-old driver slumped injured in the crushed vehicle.

The 3 p.m. crash occurred on County Rd. D, just west of State Rt. 18. It is a particularly tricky railroad intersection, Mr. Shaffer noted, one that he has heard is slated to be closed because of its sharp angle and lack of gates and lights.

When he pulled up to the scene, flames were visible from the car.

Other bystanders had arrived and one man opened the door to see if anyone needed help.

“We couldn't tell there was someone in there because of the smoke until you opened the door,” said Mr. Shaffer, a consultant for a heating, ventilation, and air conditioning firm. “By the time we got her [out of the car], the whole inside of the car was on fire.'

The decision to pull the young woman out was made just in time. All that is left of her car is the frame, witnesses said.

Ms. Shultz was flown to St. Vincent Mercy Medical Center where she is listed in critical condition. Her family camped out in the hospital's waiting room, obviously upset by the accident. They declined to comment.

The Henry County Sheriff's department said the crash remains under investigation.

But news of the rescue was swiftly making its way around those train enthusiasts camped out at Crossroads Park yesterday. Some had heard about it from their fellow rail watchers, others heard first-hand the train operator's call for help.

“Thankfully, calls like that are pretty infrequent,” said rail watcher Don Sunderman, 33, who drives more than two hours most weekends from Huntington, Ind., to gather with fellow enthusiasts in Deshler. “Hopefully I don't hear something like that again. I had a hard time sleeping that night.”

Scotty Boben, 30, of Ottawa, Ohio, was with Mr. Sunderman when the call came over the radio. The two were on their way back to Deshler from nearby Leipsic where they had gone to watch trains. Mr. Boben said he has heard emergency calls before, but he had never known anyone who helped save a life.

Mr. Shaffer said he was acting on instinct when he responded to the emergency call and when he reached into the burning car. And although he's heard rules against moving an injured person, the McClure man said he regrets nothing.

“We heard the glass popping and the inside of the car was charred,” he said. “We knew we did the right thing.”



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