How we got the river rescue story

Maddy Herring at the Skokomish River in Olympic National Park. Photo by Meegan Reid, Kitsap Sun
Maddy Herring at the Skokomish River in Olympic National Park. Photo by Meegan Reid, Kitsap Sun

On Sunday we told the story of Maddy Herring, a local 21-year-old who nearly lost her life in the Skokomish River. The story itself was certainly worth telling, but every once in a while the story behind the story is worth revealing to some degree. That is the case here.

Every morning and every evening we make calls to the local fire agencies, Washington State Patrol, the coroner’s office and to Central Communications to ask them and other local police agencies if anything happened worth reporting. It’s just one way we learn about things. Other times it’s people calling us, messaging us on Facebook or Twitter or we hear something on the scanner. It’s not the only way we learn things, but sometimes it turns into something newsworthy. The vast majority of times there is nothing new to report that comes from these calls. But they are worth making because of the times there is something worth reporting.

On Monday, Aug. 25 it was my turn to make the night calls. Included on our list of calls are three Bremerton Fire stations. My recollection is that I called one station and the officer who answered said there was nothing to report from the department, but that I ought to talk to Kevin Bonsell at Station 3 because of something he experienced while out with his family at Staircase the day before. When I called there and talked to another department officer I asked if Bonsell was available. I told him I had heard he had experienced something unique on Sunday and he told me the entire story.

After hearing what happened I was eager for someone here to get the story in the paper for a couple of reasons. One was that there was a public service element to it that reminded people of the dangers rivers can pose. The second, though, was that the story had that element of danger, but ended well for everyone. People showed up and did what they could and Maddy Herring is alive because of it. Bonsell said he would see if the family was willing.

My understanding is the Herring family found him again by reaching out through someone at the Central Kitsap Fire District, and that word got over to Bremerton through them. No one who was directly involved was advertising a story. That makes it even more attractive, because no one was looking for publicity just for themselves. Bonsell didn’t reach out to me, but once I asked him to tell the story he saw the public service benefit as well.

It took a few days but eventually Bonsell called me back with phone numbers for Maddy and her mother. By the time I spoke with Maddy it was a week and two days after the event. I was hoping I could get Bonsell to go out to the site to point out where it happened and talk on video. I had very little hope that Maddy herself would be willing to go. When I spoke to her, though, she was up for it, again recognizing the public service aspect of the story. So we made plans to meet her out there on Friday with a photographer, Meegan Reid.

The video setting is not far from where it all happened, but it’s not exactly there. When we first got there she tried to recognize the spot and could not right away. We eventually figured that the river was running lower than it was the Sunday almost two weeks before. So we filmed from a nice place to provide a good setting for the story. As you can see, Maddy was quite good at retelling it.

After we finished filming Maddy, Meegan and I began walking back to our car as Maddy decided to hike further up the trail. Meegan and I kept thinking that we had missed a turn on the trail so we hiked a little more than we’d planned before making it back. I decided to go the ranger’s station and see if we could get an incident report, which was when Maddy returned from the trail. In the interim she had found the actual spot where she was stuck and took some pictures. She said it looked more or less the same as it had that Sunday, but there would have been no way we could have gone down there with our cameras. She said seeing it made her heart race a little and she was careful not to get too close. The other bonus was the Herrings had left two pair of flip-flops and a T-shirt behind in all the chaos, and that they were still there two weeks later.

A man described as a political science professor also played a role in the rescue. I reached out to several at the different colleges in the area and struck out. Maddy’s mother, Theresa, called me on Friday and we spoke that day. I wrote the story and edited the video that night.

This whole thing came about because of a regular phone call we make in which we essentially ask, “Anything happening?”

My guess is the crews at the fire stations are not glad we interrupt their mornings and evenings to ask that question. I’m always glad when they tell me the calls have been routine. Some of that is because when the calls are not routine it usually means something bad happened to someone. The other part is if something happened it means more work. We’re like NASCAR fans who don’t necessarily want there to be a wreck, but if there is one we don’t want to miss it.

Most local fire agencies, the ones who still welcome our calls, have been very good about sharing what’s happening with us. Maybe it’s because they see the public service element in what they tell us. I’m sure sometimes they get disappointed in how we write what happened. That’s the risk, I suppose. But I think the public is well served in that relationship. And it’s because of that relationship that we were able to tell Maddy Herring’s story.

Signs of life at the Lighthouse

Back from the ashes … again, the Lighthouse restaurant will reopen next week under new ownership, former general manager Brookes Konig said Friday.

And the new owner would be Konig himself, who is leasing from property owners Tim Tweten and Gordon Rush, doing business as 429 Bay Street LLC.

By now, everyone in Port Orchard knows the back story: how the grand landmark building sat unoccupied during the recession, how earlier this year Eric A. Smith of Bothell, a Seattle cop took a stab at the restaurant business, hiring Konig as general manager, how Smith called the place Robert Earl Lighthouse, after his dad, how the community was happy to see the place reopened in May.

Konig, former regional manager of Famous Dave’s, had no personal connection to Smith. A friend of Konig’s in the local hospitality industry hooked them up. So Konig was just as shocked as the rest of South Kitsap when Smith was charged July 2 in Snohomish County with three counts of first degree child molestation. Business, dropped off after the charges came to light. Employees were laid off, and in mid-July, the Lighthouse closed.

Word was, Konig was looking for a backer to reopen the place. On Friday, he signed the final papers on the lease, and he has purchased the business from Smith.
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On Saturday (that’s today) Rotary members will be at the restaurant, now called the Port Orchard Lighthouse, helping get the place back in shape for reopening some time next week. There’s a free barbecue from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and anyone is welcome.

Konig is eager to regain the good will of the community and hopes to distance the Lighthouse from the tarnish of allegations against Smith. “The recovery is what’s so important to this restaurant,” he said.

Konig has rehired 23 former staff members and is still hiring.

The Pink-a-Nator petitions to park at the courthouse

Surely you’ve seen the Pink-a-Nator. It’s hard to miss the Pepto-Bismol pink utility truck with the slogan “Servin’ it up curb side.”
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The food truck dishing out specialty burgers, po’boys and other hearty comestibles has had a regular spot at the Annapolis Sunday Market and in a lot near the Fred Meyer shopping center (although not so much lately, since owner Michelle Roberts-Wash has been busy with catering).

Now, Roberts-Wash has her sights set on the Kitsap County Courthouse campus.

She attended last week’s Port Orchard City Council meeting to pitch her plan. The truck would occupy more than one space. The council’s public property committee has discussed the idea, said Councilman Jeff Cartwright, a committee member. The committee suggested a 90-day trial pending feedback from the county.

Meantime, the Kitsap County administrator expressed concerns about loss of parking spots that are already at a premium, according to Port Orchard City Clerk Brandy Rinearson.

Roberts-Wash had scoped out parking spaces on Austin Avenue between the county administration building and public works building. Councilman Rob Putaansuu noted that, at the previous meeting Aug. 12, a city resident had complained that she couldn’t find a place to drop off her ballot.

Other spaces Roberts-Wash had looked at were in front of the courthouse or the Sheriff’s Office.

Councilman Jerry Childs asked if this would set a precedent. What if others came along looking for space to sell their wares?

The public property committee talked about that, Cartwright said. In fact the Pink-a-Nator sparked a wide ranging discussion about food trucks, including Portland’s approach of designating whole blocks to meals on wheels. “Should the city have its own designated food truck zone?” the committee pondered.

“We talked very heavily about the parking versus the convenience of having a food service there,” Cartwright said. “We also talk about would that food service impact other businesses that also serve food.”

A hot dog vendor has a permit to sell in front of the administration building. Inside, Coffee Oasis has an espresso stand that sells food items.

Several council members commented — in the spirit of free enterprise — that competition with other businesses shouldn’t drive their decision.

Putaansuu also suggested the Pink-a-Nator might work in “underutilized” areas including Cline Avenue (the flat part not the mountain climb) and the gravel lot off Taylor Avenue.

Mayor Tim Matthes said South Kitsap County Commissioner Charlotte Garrido “would appreciate more notice and more information than she’s received so far.”

The council agreed to honor Garrido’s request, and Roberts-Wash said she’s fine with that.

So what do you think? If Port Orchard were to designate a food truck zone, where should it be?

And, if you’re a restaurant or cafe owner with a brick-and-mortar location, what are your thoughts on a food truck zone?

On Saturday, memorials for two young people

A summer of loss.

This is how it feels. Three young people in Kitsap County died within a month of one another.

On July 4, Josh Osborn, 17, of South Kitsap, was on an outing with friends when he fell into the Ohanapecosh River. His body was recovered on July 28.

On July 14, JJ Hentz, 12, also of South Kitsap, was found floating in Island Lake. He died two days later at Mary Bridge Children’s Hospital in Tacoma.
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Jenise Wright’s parents reported her missing on Aug. 3. The last time the 6-year-old was seen was around 10 p.m. the night before. On Aug. 7 her body was found, partially submerged in a muddy bog near Steele Creek Trailer Park in East Bremerton, where her family lives. On Aug. 9, Gabriel Gaeta, a friend of the Wright family, was arrested on suspicion of raping and killing Jenise.
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A memorial for JJ Hentz was held several weeks ago. JJ was “a bubbly and energetic boy with an old soul,” said cousin Jaime Wainwright, whom JJ called “Aunt Jaime.”

On Saturday, Josh Osborn and Jenise Wright, will be mourned at memorial services a couple of hours apart. Both are open to the public.

Jenise’s service is at 1 p.m. at the Silverdale Stake Center, 9256 Nels Nelson Road NW.
Jenise was outgoing, always at the center of activity at the mobile home park. She loved the colors pink and purple.
The Wright family is accepting donations to help offset expenses. Donations can be made online at a gofundme account or at Chase Bank branches, under the “Jenise Wright donation account.”

Josh Osborn was “every parents’ dream” according to his obituary, written by his family. “He was kind, handsome, smart, funny, but most of all he had the biggest, most loving heart. Josh loved life and he lived every day to its fullest. He had many passions and dreams.”
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A memorial for Josh is planned for 3 p.m. Saturday at the South Kitsap High School gym. In honor of Josh, the family asks that you wear your Seahawks or South Kitsap gear.

Josh Osborn’s body recovered by Kitsap-based mountain rescue group

Through a series of chance circumstances, the group that recovered Josh Osborn’s body Monday on a river near Mt. Rainier was the Bremerton based Olympic Mountain Rescue.

Josh fell into the turbulent, glacially fed Ohanapecosh River on July 4 during an outing with friends. Warm weather that led to snow melt made the river especially high, hampering search efforts. On Sunday, however, the Port Orchard teen’s body was spotted by kayakers, who alerted authorities.

But getting to him was no easy matter.

Josh lay in a foot of water between a mile and a mile-and-a-half from where he fell in, according to Roger Beckett of Olympic Mountain Rescue, who got the call about 2 a.m. Sunday from the state’s Emergency Management Division. Beckett coordinates rescue efforts for the group.

Typically, a mountain rescue group from Tacoma would have been called first, since they are closer, Beckett said. But because rescue groups are staffed by volunteers, the matter of who responds depends on who can most quickly rally a group of people with the technical skills required for the situation.

Josh’s body was reported to be in or near a rocky gorge kayakers call the “elbow room,” a particularly challenging stretch of the river, with narrow chutes of foamy white water and deadfall trees littering the route. Beckett expected rescuers would need to rappel into the gorge.

“This isn’t a place where anybody goes unless they go down to fish and kayak. It’s a rugged part of the river system,” Beckett said.

This picture, courtesy of the Lewis County Sheriff’s Office, gives a visual of the river.
Ohanapecosh

By 8 a.m. Monday a team of six Olympic Mountain Rescue members arrived at Packwood to receive a briefing from the Lewis County Sheriff’s Office, which was leading the search and recovery. Beckett did not go along, but he got a briefing later from team members. They split into three groups from the base of operations near the intersection of highways 12 and 123 and combed the riverbank at the bottom of a steep grassy ravine, according to Beckett.

Finally, they located Josh and were able to reach him, placing him in a stretcher, which they lifted to the road in several pitches, using a 600-foot rope.

Olympic Mountain Rescue, established in 1959, is made up of 25 to 30 members familiar with alpine climbing and specially trained for rescue and recovery in rough terrain, where even first responders are hard put to go.

OMR members participate in a couple dozen rescue or recovery efforts most years, and they took part in the search for missing outdoors writer Karen Sykes in June on Mt. Rainier. Sykes, an experienced mountaineer, died of hypothermia on the mountain. The group did not participate in rescue Tuesday of a 25-year-old Bremerton man who fell down an embankment under High Steel Bridge on the Skokomish River.

‘No Child’ waiver loss might be a blessing

This week’s North Kitsap School Board three-day retreat agenda includes discussion of what impact Washington’s loss of a No Child Left Behind waiver will have on the district. This is a conversation every district will be having.

While the additional allowances each school district in the state will have to make does make for extra work, there are some in educational circles who argue it is better than the alternative, evaluating teachers based on student scores on standardized testing.

The waiver loss does not mean a loss of funds. It means less flexibility with using those funds, about $40 million across the state. While the No Child law is being reworked states were given some flexibility in applying some of its standards, but the U.S. Department of Education held firm that states had to have a workable teacher evaluation system that relied at least in part on student test scores. Washington, in the end, declined to create a system and the feds tightened the screws on how money is spent.

What we’re talking about is Title I funding, money aimed at disadvantaged students. For North Kitsap Title 1 funding equals about $562,000. Under the existing law about 30 percent of that, about $168,000, will be directed to other purposes, said Patty Page, district superintendent.

Of that $168,000 about $56,000 is to be spent on professional development. The rest would go to transportation for parents who want to take their children out of schools deemed not meeting No Child adequate yearly progress standards. In North Kitsap that is Suquamish Elementary, Wolfle Elementary and Kingston Middle School.

Page said there are still a few questions left unanswered. One is whether the district’s application to provide special tutoring within the district will be granted. Another is whether transportation to other schools means schools outside of the school district. Answers to those questions and others are supposed to come soon.

The retreat is Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday night, with each meeting beginning at 5:30 p.m. and scheduled to last three hours. The meetings are in the district offices.

The No Child waiver is fifth on the three-day agenda, following the 2014-15 budget, open government training, strategic plans and board goals. Page didn’t expect the No Child waiver discussion to happen in the first night’s work, which could mean Page will by then have more answers on some lingering questions.

One story in an education publication suggests some states would tell Washington to accept the waiver loss with a happy face and move on. That’s the case made in a story in Education Week. Losing the flexibility over a few dollars might be an easy price to pay for the flexibility you get elsewhere. From the story:

For instance, he (Richard Zeiger, the chief deputy superintendent in California) said, there have been political benefits. The state’s teachers’ unions were a huge driving force in helping to enact a new funding formula that gives a heavy weight to students in poverty. It would have been a lot harder to gin up union support for the change if the state education agency had been tusseling with them over teacher evaluation, Zeiger said.

Maybe even more importantly, he said, the shift to new standards has been relatively painless for California. “We’ve had very little contention around the common core and the shift to the new testing system” in part because it’s happened separately from the types of teacher-evaluation changes called for in the waivers, Zeiger said. “The comments we’ve gotten on common core are: This is how I always wanted to teach.”

Other states say the waiver is working, the case made in an AP story this week. The story goes into some explanation as to what’s happening here in this state.

A brief NPR story goes a little bit into what is happening in Oregon and Idaho.

Is your child ready for kindergarten?

As a follow-up to our story today on efforts to promote learning among preschool children, I share with you here the Washington Kindergarten Inventory of Developing Skills. This state-endorsed list (attached below) shows 22 skills that children should have mostly under their belts by the time they finish kindergarten.

Children are assessed in the fall (by October 31) through observation and looking at samples of students’ work. Schools that receive state funding for all-day kindergarten are required to to the WaKIDS assessment, which is used by teachers to figure out where individual students need help and by state and local policy makers, who study the aggregate data. Other schools can voluntarily participate in WaKIDS.

The state is phasing in fully-funded, all-day kindergarten, starting with the most impoverished schools. Because there are more schools added each year, you can’t compare data from one year to the next.

The assessment used by WaKIDS evaluates proficiency in 22 skills in six areas of learning: social and emotional, physical, language and cognitive development, literacy and math. Under social-emotional, for example, one question asks if the student “regulates own emotions and behaviors.” Under mathematics, you’ll find, “explores and describes spatial relationships and shapes.” Problem solving, the ability to carry on a conversation, identify letters, sounds and words … there’s a lot on the list. And, experts say, children entering kindergarten should have been working on these skills long before they’re enrolled in public school.

On the Kitsap Sun’s Facebook link to our story, “Districts start early to ready students for kindergarten,” there was a debate among readers about whether this push for early acquisition of skills is positive for children or just too much pressure.

While current policy on early childhood education (including the value of all-day kindergarten) remains open to debate, the importance of a richly stimulating environment during each developmental stage has been well documented, including by the Children’s Reading Foundation, a Kennewick organization that hosts the national Ready! for Kindergarten program. The program, in which South Kitsap, Bremerton and Central Kitsap take part, educates parents on ways to foster intellectual and social growth from birth on up.

The WaKIDS data from the 2013-2014 school year shows that 80 percent of the 38,443 kindergartners assessed already had physical skills that are “widely expected” by the end of kindergarten. In literacy, too, roughly 80 percent already had a good grasp. Social-emotional confidence and cognitive skills had been mostly mastered by about 75 percent. About 70 percent had good proficiency in language skills, but only 50 percent were end-of-kindergarten skilled in math.

One school official I talked to said kindergarten teachers must address the needs of children with a wide range of skills, from those who are able to do some things typical of an 8-year-old, while others are struggling at a 3-year-old level.

Let me repeat that these are skills tested on children at the beginning of the school year that experts say they should have fully mastered by the end of kindergarten.

If you are the parent of a child entering kindergarten, you may want to take a look at this list (below). The big take-away that I heard from teachers and early childhood experts while researching the story is that “each child develops at his or her own pace,” so don’t panic if they’re not hitting it out of the park in all categories. Read “Leo the Late Bloomer,” for a pick-me-up, if this is the case.

Finally, I’d love to hear how you take advantage of opportunities to foster learning in your preschooler, toddler or infant… what they call those “teachable moments.”
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P.S. This is a picture of my son Alex, who turns 30 on Friday, proof that time flies. This photo is not available for copying or reproduction. Thank you.

WaKIDS Assessment

Locals help find, return lost Kansas dog

Patty headed home to Kansas by plane Thursday, July 23, after going missing south of Port Orchard on July 4.
Patty headed home to Kansas by plane Thursday, July 23, after going missing south of Port Orchard on July 4.

After Paul Sawatski arrived at the Tacoma Narrows Bridge toll booth and realized that his dog Patty was missing from the back of the truck, her leash and collar dangling over the side of the vehicle, he spent three days searching for her along Highway 16 without success.

More than a week after Sawatski returned to Kansas, several Kitsap County locals continued the search for Patty, a six-year-old hound dog Sawatski has had since she was seven weeks old, he said.

Patty was eventually caught in a live trap with the help of Julie Saavedra, of Bremerton, on July 18, and arrived back in Kansas July 23, almost three weeks after she went missing.

“She clicked her little paws three times and back to Kansas she went,” Saavedra said.

The dog was in good health when she was found, she added.

And Patty is now back to lounging on the bed at home, Sawatski said.

Sawatski and his fiancé Jessica Mahler were driving back to Kansas after visiting family in Kitsap County during the Fourth of July. Sawatski grew up in Seabeck and now lives in Wichita, Kan.

Patty and Jessica both dislike fire works, so Sawatski said he decided to take them and their other two dogs — Charlie and Franklin — to camp grounds were fireworks were not allowed. Somewhere between the Tremont Street exit and the Tacoma Narrows Bridge on Highway 16, Sawatski said he thinks Patty must have jumped out, something she has never done before.

“No one honked. I didn’t hear anything hit the truck,” he said.

Sawatski and Mahler spent the Fourth of July driving up and down Highway 16 looking for Patty. There was no sign of the dog in the road, which kept Sawatski hopeful, he said.

The couple stayed through the weekend searching and contacting local humane societies. Mahler flew back to Kansas for work on Monday and Sawatski stay an extra day to search for Patty.

After seeing online postings for the missing dog, Saavedra contacted the Sawatski and offered her helping locating Patty. Saavedra runs the Facebook page “Kitsap and Mason counties Lost and Found Furbabies.”

People would call Saavedra or Sawatski when they sighted the dog, narrowing where she could be found.

After several reported sightings around the Purdy Crescent Road exit, Saavedra set a live trap with a cooked steak, chew toy and T-shirt that Sawatski mailed her. The hope was that Sawatski’s scent would bring the hound dog into the trap, Saavedra said.

“I think the steak had something to do with it too,” Sawatski said.

Lighthouse restaurant closed, seeking new backer

The Robert Earl Lighthouse, open in late May, closed Monday, disabled by criminal charges against owner Eric A. Smith of Bothell. General manager Brookes Konig is looking for new financial backing, according to bar supervisor Linda Martens of Port Orchard, who came out of retirement to work with Konig.

Smith, a Seattle Police officer, was charged July 2 in Snohomish County with three counts of first degree child molestation. Business, dropped off after the charges came to light, said Martens, who was at the empty restaurant Wednesday, awaiting delivery of final paychecks for the remaining employees. Initially, after Smith’s legal troubles were reported, 20 of the roughly 55 Lighthouse employees were laid off. Smith struggled valiantly to keep the restaurant afloat, Martens said, and the hope is that a deal in the works might still be brokered.
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Martens had high praise for Konig, who has a long career in the food and beverage industry. “He’s such a wonderful man,” she said. “He cares about his employees like they’re his family.”

Konig preferred to be call “coach” by employees, Martens said. “He doesn’t want to be the boss, because he feels like his strength is coaching.” She added that Konig “moved heaven and earth” to make sure the final paychecks were cut.

Martens also praised the team Konig assembled to re-open the landmark restaurant, which had sat shuttered for a number of years. “I’ve never seen a group of people so dedicated to one person, and that was Brookes,” Martens said.

Smith, doing business as Robert Earl Enterprises LLC, had leased the Lighthouse from property owner Tim Tweten, whose parents opened the original Tweten’s Lighthouse in 1984. Tweten’s was a destination, special occasion kind of place. Konig wanted the new Lighthouse to be more of an every day, gathering place for the community, Martens said.

Martens hopes the Lighthouse, named for Smith’s father, can outshine the tarnish of the accusations against Smith, who was placed on administrative leave from Seattle PD. “It’s up to this town if it does come back to step up,” she said.

When teenagers defy our expectations

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On Monday when we heard the scanner call of a drowning at Island Lake my heart stopped a bit. My family had been there the evening before. My youngest, Apollo, he who cuts his own hair, had been swimming. It’s what you do when it’s warm out.

The picture on the left was taken that night from Island Lake Park. Sunset pictures were all over Facebook that night. This one is far from the best one.

There is no joy in learning it’s not your kid. There is no celebration in any of it.

Even learning that a group of about nine kids who were there swimming did all they could to save the boy’s life is overshadowed by the fact that as of Tuesday night that 12-year-old boy is in critical condition. I am, like much of this region, so impressed with what those kids did. That this boy has a chance to survive at all is because of them, and because of some adults who also happened by at the same time.

And yet, like everyone else, I want more than anything to hear that the boy will be OK. Then we can really celebrate what teenagers did. I think I can cast aside my job-mandated Olympian objectivity in saying that.

This, too. Today I got to talk to the mother of one of the kids. I said what I think anyone else would say, that no matter how this turns out those kids did the right thing.

Even if celebration is not in order, it’s comforting to know what happened. Anyone who has ever been a parent knows that stuff happens beyond your control. We obsess over details and still miss things. Life happens at a pace that sometimes outruns us. There are times we need the village to step in. We don’t necessarily plan for it. We try to live like we don’t need it. And yet there are times we find ourselves thanking whatever god we acknowledge for the times angels in the form of other humans appear to save us.

Or to save our kids.

This time it was teenagers. Remember that the next time you’re tempted to give up on them, maybe even your own. Most times we find ourselves wondering what they’re capable of it doesn’t occur to us that they might be capable of saving a life.

UPDATE: Most of you know by now that things did not end as we hoped. Jeffrey Hentz died Wednesday morning.