"He's dead. He's dead," was the terrifying cry of a 10-year-old Kearns boy who this week watched his older brother being buried when a sand embankment collapsed on him.
But Tyler Hitz isn't dead.Miraculously, physicians say, the 13-year-old survived the accident that nearly severed his spinal cord and could have left him paralyzed for life.
Specialists at Primary Children's Medical Center this week performed delicate back surgery to fuse five of his vertebraes, and insert steel rods to help permanently stabilize a fractured one. The surgery was successful and physicians are confident the youth will walk again.
As Hitz lay in stable condition in the children's hospital Thursday, concerned parents in his Kearns' neighborhood were mobilizing efforts to prevent other such accidents. A petition urging Monroc Inc. to fence off its sand and gravel pit is being distributed house-to-house.
A large open field, adjacent to the pit (located in the area of 5400 W. and 6200 South), has attracted joggers, bikers and transients, neighbors say. In July a woman was raped there. It's a so-called "party hill" for high school students and a shortcut for youth walking to and from Jefferson Jr. High School, neighbors say.
For years, the pit has also been an inviting playground for adventurous youths.
It's along the pit's 40-foot embankment that Hitz and several other boys, ages 10 to 13, were playing Oct. 30 when tragedy struck.
"My friends and I were digging in this hole. I was sitting in it, and when I started to stand up, all of the sudden all of this stuff hit me in the back," a weak Hitz said. "My brother was yelling, `He's dead, he's dead.' "
The embankment along which the boys were digging had given way, collapsing on the 5-foot-9-inch Hitz.
As his friends and brother ran for help, the injured youth climbed out from under the mount of sand and dirt; his broken body tumbled down the hill - escaping the death trap.
"It was scary," said Hitz, his once-sturdy, husky body immobilized in the hospital bed to prevent further injury to his ribs and spine. "I probably blacked out for a second because it was light, dark, and then light again. I had this funny feeling in my back. I knew I was badly hurt, but I had a feeling I was going to be OK. I just wanted to stay alive."
Hitz's friends and brother, Corey, burst into the home of Terry C. White, a close friend of the teen.
"Only one kid was calm enough to tell me what was wrong," White said. "They left (the scene) so quick that they thought Tyler was buried. They didn't see him actually get out."
The same shocking news was relayed to Hitz's mother, Linda Shedd, who rushed to the accident site. She found White sitting by her son's crumpled frame.
"He was free and near the bottom of the mound, lying on his stomach, yelling and moaning," White said. "He was having a hard time breathing."
Hitz remembers White telling him to stay calm, to take deep, slow breaths to help lessen the pain caused by three broken ribs.
"When I arrived he was awake, breathing and crying a bit because he hurt," said Shedd, tears moistening her own tired eyes. "The first thing I thought is why isn't this stupid place fenced off? Kids are going to be kids; they think they can go anywhere and do anythinga.
"My feeling is that you can't have them sit on the couch with their hands folded and be good all the time. And you can't run around and monitor them while they are playing, and say `you can't do this and that because you might get hurt.' Kid's are going to go and explore.'
A badly hurt Hitz was taken by ambulance to Holy Cross Jordan Valley Hospital, then transferred by helicopter to Primary Children's, where he'll be hospitalized for 10 or more days.
Shedd, an employee of the Utah Department of Health, said that upon release from the hospital, her son will be homebound for several weeks before he's allowed to return to school on a part-time basis. Among his holiday "gifts" will be a brace he'll wear for three months and extensive physical therapy.
Shedd, who has maintained a bedside vigil at Primary Children's since Sunday night, doesn't attempt to hide her anger over the senseless accident.
"I'm darn mad. I feel bad for Tyler, but I'm angry because the neighbors have tried to work with those people (Monroc), and as far as I know, there has been no response."
White, who's spearheading the petition drive, said that several years ago neighbors tried to purchase land to install a fence around the pit. Monroc wouldn't budge. Now neighbors want the pit filled in or fenced up.
"We feel this is a very dangerous thing to be left open as it is," White said. "It is an open invitation to kids of all ages to go in and explore _ and become entrapped."
Monroc officials Wednesday refused comment on the neighbor's appeals, or Hitz's accident.
Hitz prays his accident makes Monroc more aware of the problem.
"What they should do is put a fence or sign up. If there's a sign that says `no trespassing' and the kids get hurt, then that's their own fault," he said softly. "I don't want other kids to get hurt like I did. I am lucky because I could have been paralyzed. I was lucky that I was able to leave there alive."