Boy rescued from Tuckerton mud pit
Published in the Asbury Park Press 1/28/03
Bitter cold could have severely injured 8-year-old
By GREGORY J. VOLPE
TUCKERTON -- Eight-year-old John Ahart swears he won't play in the woods and marshes behind his condominium complex again.
That's because the last time he went exploring those natural surroundings, he got stuck in the mud.
While playing with his sister and a friend on Jan. 11, John got stuck waist-deep in a mud pocket for 30 minutes until police officers and firefighters could dig him out.
John left his home on Beach Plum Court in the Tuckerton Meadows complex around noon that day, telling his mother he'd be playing in the woods. His mother, Lisa, didn't know the woods contained a broken-down wooden walkway that led to a span of marsh.
The children ventured beyond the end of the walkway to the marsh just to see what was out where they'd never gone before. Then John got stuck, sinking to his waist.
"It was like quicksand," he said. "Every time I tried to get out, I'd get more stuck."
John said he wasn't too nervous, but his sister, Ashley, 11, had another story.
"He said, 'Get me out of here,!' " Ashley recalled.
John countered that he only got scared when Ashley threatened to leave him there.
The girls tried to pry John out with a piece of plywood, but had no luck. Against John's wishes -- he was afraid of getting in trouble -- they ran to his mother who called police.
Patrolmen Matthew Caufield and Michael Morrin arrived, but could not remove the boy because the mud had a suction grip on him. Morrin wrapped the boy in his jacket -- John had doffed his New Jersey Devils' jacket before venturing into the mud -- to try to keep him warm.
Lisa Ahart, who watched from solid ground several yards away, was scared for her son's safety, but did not realize he could have suffered severely from the cold until after he was saved. Temperatures that day hovered around freezing; the recorded high for the area that day was 34 degrees.
"I knew they'd get him out, but I didn't know how," she said. "It wasn't until afterward that I realized he could have frozen to death."
Firefighter Greg DeForge responded with four or five other firefighters, but he was the only one dressed in wet and ice rescue gear and was directed down the path to the mud hole.
"I just jumped in and started digging around him with my hands," he said. "We couldn't use shovels because we were worried about his feet. Every time we thought we had him out, the mud sucked him back in."
DeForge had not participated in a mud rescue before nor had any formal training on what to do. He said he relied on instinct, and acted how he'd hope someone would act if it were his child in the freezing mud.
"I felt bad for the kid. The kid was shivering," he said. "He's wet, and it's cold and windy. You see somebody stuck and the first thing you think of is digging."
John was drenched with mud, but was not harmed by the experience. He lost a pair of new boots, socks and sweat pants, which were cut off him by the medics who checked him out in the ambulance. He also lost a pair of gloves he got for Christmas in the muck.
And he didn't get punished for his predicament. Lisa Ahart is certain that he won't go there again.
"No," he said assuredly when asked if he would return to the murky meadow. "Sorry, no can do!"
Gregory J. Volpe: (609) 978-4584 or email@example.com