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Officials identify boy in fatal snowbank accident in Greenwich

Officials identify boy in fatal snowbank accident in Greenwich

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GREENWICH — The boy who survived being buried in a snowbank on Tuesday was recovering early Wednesday at his home as police try to figure out what happened to him and to a friend who did not survive.

A news conference was held Wednesday morning and officials identified the boy who died as 13-year-old Joshua J. Demarest, a seventh grader at Greenwich Junior-Senior High School.

The boy who was rescued Tyler Day, 12, was suffering from hypothermia and was released from Saratoga Hospital on Wednesday morning, officials said.

Cambridge-Greenwich Police Chief George Bell said the boys had been sledding and dug a snow fort into an 8- to 10-foot high embankment on Rock Street Tuesday afternoon.

The snowbank accumulated as Greenwich Village Department of Public Works Crews dumped snow there from roadsides and sidewalks in recent days, including during the day Tuesday.

Police believe the two boys were on the back side of the bank, in a snow fort, when a payloader or dump truck put more snow on the bank or pushed it, collapsing the fort. Bell said they could not have been seen from the front side, adjacent to the open part of the parking lot, by the DPW staff.

Tyler told police that he was trapped in an area where he had a pocket of air, but the other boy did not have enough air, Bell said. Tyler was conscious when he was found.

"When he was found he was in a little bit of a tunnel where he was able to breathe. It was a miracle," the chief said. "The boy who survived said they heard the noise of equipment and everything went black."

Joshua was buried face down, and an autopsy was to be conducted Wednesday or Thursday to determine how he died.

Police believe they had been trapped in snow for 3 to 3.5 hours when they were found around 7:15 p.m. First responders administered CPR on the unresponsive boy and doctors tried to revive him at Saratoga Hospital, but he was pronounced dead around 10:15 p.m.

Grief counselors were called in for students at Greenwich Central School and the DPW staff, who were devastated by what occurred, the chief said. The boys were schoolmates with 12-year-old Connor McLaughlin, who died when hit by a falling rock while hiking in March.

At a press conference Wednesday morning, Greenwich School Superintendent Mark Fish said counselors will be on hand to help students and staff as long as needed. Both boys were seventh graders, so the elementary and high school were both affected.

"The whole campus is mourning and grieving together," he said. "We are going to support each other and get through this together."

Joshua was a well-liked boy who enjoyed sports and the outdoors, Fish said. He played soccer and was in French Club.

"He was a good student, well-rounded and well-liked by his peers," the superintendent said.

Demarest's mother was not in Greenwich at the time because her mother had died earlier in the day in New Jersey, according to Bell.

The two boys' families live three houses apart. Friends and loved ones came and went from the Demarest home Wednesday, the family declining to comment to media. At one point, a man who identified himself as Joshua's father came to look at the snowbank Wednesday morning as Bell photographed it for evidentiary purposes.

"Is this where he was?" he asked Bell, seemingly fighting back tears.

The chief replied that it was, and offered the man condolences before he and two other family members walked back to the home.

Feared he was going to die

Bell spoke with Tyler later Wednesday, and the boy told him he tried to dig his way out of the snow when the bank collapsed, but "gave up" as he couldn't find a way out. He had taken his gloves off to dig, but put them back on and just waited.

The boy, recuperating at a relative's home in Greenwich, told police he believed he fell asleep a couple of times as he waited and hoped for a rescue, and feared he was going to die. He could not see or hear his friend during the time he was trapped, as Demarest's snow cave was further toward the back of the bank.

"He said he saw a dumptruck in the parking lot but didn't think much about it because there were always trucks coming and going there," the chief said.

He did not seem to have any injuries other than hypothermia. The hole he was in was not much larger than his body, but trapped enough oxygen to keep him alive.

Tyler's family did not consent to media interviews later Wednesday.

Reported missing

Police were called by one of the boy's sisters at 4:59 p.m., reporting her brother missing. Both families live on Rock Street, a short dead-end street that runs along the Batten Kill on the east side of the village.

A search ensued with Cambridge-Greenwich officers, State Police, Washington County sheriff's officers and state forest rangers, Greenwich firefighters, police dogs and at least one helicopter.

Footprints from one of the boy's homes led police to the lot on Rock Street, and a police dog alerted on the snow pile. Bell said State Police Investigator Joseph Bearor spotted part of a sled sticking from the bank, which prompted officers to begin digging with shovels, rakes and their hands. Part of the bank was hard-packed chunks of ice in addition to the week's fresh snow.

"A dozen and a half guys just went into panic mode and started frantically digging," Bell said. "They must have moved 7 tons of snow in a minute."

Joshua was found first, unconscious and not breathing. Officers feared the worst for Tyler as well, and were initially saddened to learn he had been found as well, until they heard yelling, "He's alive!" said State Police Senior Investigator Robert Stampfli, who was among those digging.

He called Tyler's survival and discovery "a miracle." The snowbank extends 50 or so yards long, and searchers had no idea how far they were going to have to look through the hard, icy bank.

"In 10 minutes time, they had that huge pile down to earth," Stampfli said.

Tyler was found about 6 feet inside the snowbank.

Sheriff Jeff Murphy said Deputy Scott McFarren performed CPR on Joshua as he went to the hospital, and his staff was seeking critical incident stress debriefing as well.

The DPW staff, all volunteer firefighters, assisted with the efforts to take apart the snowbank.

Flynn said the six-person DPW was "devastated." But Bell said the situation was a tragic accident that DPW staff could not foresee in light of the children digging into the bank from the opposite side of where the dumping was taking place.

The snow pile is on private property, across Rock Street from a park on the Batten Kill, but the owner has long let the DPW dump snow there. Greenwich Public Works Superintendent Leo Flynn said his staff had used the lot "for years" but had not seen children playing there before.

Playing in snow is a rite of childhood, and Bell said it is tough to convince children of the dangers that snowbanks — and leaf piles on streets that can be hit by cars — can present when kids play in them.

"Snowbanks are intriguing to kids. I don't know how you could ever really stop this," he said. 

An online fund had been set up to assist Joshua's family with funeral expenses. It can be found at www.gofundme.com/funeral-expenses-and-supporting-fam.

Nearly $12,000 had been raised as of Wednesday afternoon.

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