How a shoeless toy store owner became a hero in an Ellicott City flood

Jason Barnes smoked a cigarette after the Ellicott City flood. Here's how he got it — and earned it.

All Time Toys owner Jason Barnes left the basement of his Ellicott City shop that had become inundated with water Saturday when he and others noticed a woman stranded in her car in Main Street.

Barnes soon found himself wading through the rushing waist-deep surge to reach out to Jamie Knight, who was helpless behind the wheel of her Volkswagen Beetle.

A video of the dramatic rescue shows Barnes and several others forming a human chain to reach out and save Knight, and has been widely circulated online. County Executive Allan Kittleman cited it as one of the many examples of heroism by county residents who had come together during the storm.

But Barnes said he was simply helping out.

"Fifty more feet, that would've taken her to the river," Barnes said. "I just wanted to help."

Barnes had been in the basement of his toy store, attempting to save some items by moving them to higher ground. But unlike past floods, the water continued to rise, coming through higher and higher cracks in the wall.

Then he heard a "pop" and the basement door "just blew open."

Barnes left for higher ground.

He then watched the water carry off his 1997 Grand Marquis — the second vehicle he's lost to an Ellicott City flood. He knew Knight's car would be carried off, too.

Barnes found himself walking through the rushing water out to the vehicle when he was suddenly knocked over the the force of the river that had taken over Main Street. In the video, he is seen being carried off only to return into the frame a short time later.

He said the raging water had carried him about 10 feet down Main Street. But he managed to find some shelter from the current behind a building and pulled himself back up.

He had lost his Dr. Martens but was determined to "keep moving."

He managed to trudge — shoeless — back to the car.

Knight had trouble getting out of the car. Because of the rushing waters she couldn't open the door, so she opened the window and climbed to Barnes. Before making the leap, she tucked a pack of cigarettes into her mouth, and Barnes carried her to safety in the nearest storefront.

"They became worth their weight in gold," Barnes said of the cigarettes. As everyone was trying to process what had just happened, they broke open the pack.

Barnes on Monday evening said he still has not returned to his shop.

He said he spent the day with his family in Sunday but he wants to return to survey the damage.

He has worked at the business for the last 10 years but had just bought out the owners in June, putting all his money into the deal.

Less than 48 hours after the surge, he remained positive.

"Others lost so much more," he said. "At the end of it, I got to walk away."

He said he believes insurance will cover the damage and he plans to reopen.

"Our goal is to get back to where we are," he said.

While Saturday's storm was devastating, he said Ellicott City is "generally a good, safe place."

He attended an information meeting held Monday where other business owners and residents sought answers about what to do next. 

While some of his fellow business owners were distraught over the loss, Barnes said the storm showed "how good humanity is," as many people had stories of rescues or help to others.

He said he's been amazed by all the support people have offered to him.

"Everyone sticks together," he said.

jkanderson@baltsun.com

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