Majiah Washington noticed a flash outside her home this week in Portland, where a dangerous storm had coated the city with ice. Opening her blinds, she saw a red SUV with a downed power line on it and a couple who had been putting their baby in the car.
The woman screamed to her boyfriend to get the baby to safety, and he grabbed the child and began to scramble up the driveway on concrete so slick it was almost impossible to walk. But before he made it halfway, he slid backward and his foot touched the live wire — “a little fire, then smoke,” Washington said.
The mother, six months pregnant, tried to reach the baby, but she too slipped and was electrocuted. So was her 15-year-old brother, when he came out to help.
Washington, 18, was on the phone with a dispatcher when she saw the baby, lying on top of his father, move his head — the 9-month-old was alive. Having just seen three people shocked to death, she decided to try to save the boy.
She kept a low crouch to avoid sliding into the wire as she approached, she said at a news conference Thursday, a day after the deaths. As she grabbed the baby she touched the father’s body, but she wasn’t shocked, she said.
“I was concerned about the baby,” said Washington, who recognized the woman as her neighbor's daughter. “Nobody was with the baby.”
Portland Fire and Rescue spokesman Rick Graves praised Washington for her heroism but confessed he didn’t understand how she and the baby weren’t also electrocuted. The baby was examined at a hospital and is fine, authorities have said.
“We do have fortunately with us a toddler that is going to be able to thrive and do what they possibly can as they move forward,” Graves said. “And they are here, in part, because of the heroic acts of a member of our community.”
The snow, freezing rain, ice and frigid temperatures that hammered the Pacific Northwest in the past week have now been blamed for at least 10 deaths in Oregon, from hypothermia and falling trees or utility poles, along with five from hypothermia in the Seattle area.
Oregon’s governor declared a statewide emergency Thursday night after requests for aid from multiple counties “as they enter the sixth day of severe impacts” from the weather.
The ice weighs down trees and power lines, making them prone to snap, especially in strong winds. That appears to be what caused the electrocution deaths: A large branch broke from a tree, landed on utility wires and pushed one onto the vehicle.
Washington’s neighbor, Ronald Briggs, declined to speak with The Associated Press beyond confirming that his 21-year-old daughter and 15-year-old son had been killed.
But he told Portland television station KGW that his daughter had come over to use the internet after hers went out. He and his wife had just gotten in their own car to run an errand when they heard the boom and saw the SUV apparently on fire.
He watched as the couple slid to their deaths — and then told his 15-year-old son, Ta’Ron Briggs, a high school sophomore, to keep his distance, to no avail.
“I told him, ‘Don’t go down there — try to get away from them.’ And he slid, and he touched the water, and he, and he died too,” Briggs said. “I have six kids. I lost two of them in one day."
“It just hurt,” he said. “Being a good father cannot solve this right now.”
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