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Jana Hollingsworth, Forum Communications, Published June 21 2012

Boy recalls 1/3-mile journey through culvert: 'I hate that ride'

PROCTOR, Minn. – It all happened in less than 30 minutes.

Kenny Markiewicz, 8, and his 10-year-old cousin, Emily Mullikin, were given permission to go outside about noon Wednesday in Bayview Heights near Proctor. The record-setting rain had subsided, and the kids went to splash in the puddles less than a half-block down the hill, said Kenny’s mother, Amber Markiewicz.

But the water left by massive flooding had become a deep pool down the sloping Lawn Street.

Unknown to Kenny and his cousin, a culvert built into the side of the road and usually hidden by foliage was submerged. Kenny, playing in the water, was sucked into the culvert by the powerful force of the current.

“We heard Emily scream, and we were out the door and down the hill,” Markiewicz said. “We called 911, and I jumped in the water. Looking around, you couldn’t see anything. You couldn’t tell there was a culvert.”

Markiewicz began to feel around beneath the water and discovered a hole. She could feel the force of the water around her, and it began to drag her in.

“I just knew,” she said.

At that point, Kenny, who had entered a 2½-foot opening, was pushed through a culvert system underground for more than a third of a mile before being spit out in a wooded area next to the Zenith Terrace mobile home park. His journey, Kenny said Thursday, “was dark,” and felt as if he traveled “100 miles.”

Hearing his shouts, nearby resident Gordon Marshall found Kenny walking through the woods. Marshall, who said the boy was bloodied and “in a daze,” took him in and called authorities.

When Kenny and his mother were reunited, she said, he told her: “I plugged my nose, I took a breath and I prayed.”

Doctors told Markiewicz that Kenny’s lungs are clear. He suffered some deep cuts, bruises and a concussion. He doesn’t remember much of what happened, he said. Memory of it seemed to come to him in bits and pieces during a talk with visitors. When hearing a description of another water rescue in the flood’s aftermath Wednesday, he said, “That’s what I saw. Fast water. Overflowing.”

For a while, Kenny said, he heard his mother’s voice shouting into the culvert as he moved through it.

If the culvert is newer, said Duluth senior engineering specialist Bill Bergstrom, it has a smooth interior to allow water to flow quickly and to lessen the chance of debris clogging it. It did not have a grate over it. Many in the city do not, Bergstrom said. The general policy is not to have grates, he said, because they clog after debris gets caught in them and can cause flooding. If people with small children or animals live near a culvert and ask for a grate, the city will install one, he said.

A city map shows a mostly straight shot down to the culvert’s next opening, where Kenny was deposited, with two angled turns toward the end. It empties into an open creek, which turns into Kingsbury Creek. Kenny couldn’t remember what happened when he came out of the culvert, but he recalled walking for a bit and hearing Marshall’s voice. He remembers asking for his mom.

Marshall said Kenny must have walked for several minutes in the woods, noting the distance from where the culvert emptied and where he found him near his house.

“I can’t explain how he survived that,” Marshall said, of both Kenny’s trip through the culvert and his ability to keep walking after he was released from it.

Kenny said of the experience: “I hate that ride.”

Through tears, Markiewicz characterized her son’s survival as a “miracle.”

“This could have ended in a much different … just saying to other parents, even if it looks like the water is calm – it could be just a puddle on the side of the road – you don’t know what’s under there,” she said.

The Markiewicz family, who live in Lake Charles, La., were on vacation staying with family. Markiewicz, a northern Wisconsin native, said she has previously endured such rain, having lived in hurricane country for 23 years. But she wasn’t prepared for the number of people who rushed to her son’s aid.

“The community here, the people, the prayers, people going above and beyond, the man who found my son – there are no words,” she said. “I don’t know where they came from, but people were jumping in the water. These people are amazing. This restores my faith.”

Kenny, who addresses women as “ma’am” and said he loves to swim, the cartoon “Tom and Jerry,” and making s’mores while camping, was taking it easy Thursday, resting on the couch and cuddling with his mom. He said she “was being a baby” on Wednesday after he was found.

“He was worried about the zoo animals,” Markiewicz said.


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Jana Hollingsworth writes for The Duluth News Tribune