As ice lingers, injuries mount

The Baltimore Sun

The toll of the winter storm climbed yesterday as a Howard County teenager died in a sledding accident and scores of others across the region jammed emergency rooms with weather-related injuries.

Ryan Conley, 16, was sledding with his sister on their family's farm in Lisbon just before noon when he crashed into a tree, a Howard County fire spokesman said. Paramedics had to use ropes and pulleys attached to trees to reach the youth because the hill, estimated to be 1,000 feet long and a 40-degree incline, was covered in ice, the spokesman said.

The Glenelg High School 11th-grader was flown to the Maryland Shock Trauma Center, where he was pronounced dead - the second person in the Baltimore region since Friday to die in a sledding accident.

And in Carroll County, a 12-year-old was hurt while sledding and taken to Shock Trauma, where he was listed in serious condition last night. At least four people have gone to Shock Trauma in as many days with injuries sustained in recreational activities - three sledders and a snowmobile rider.

The culprit in all of the cases has been the ice delivered by last week's storm and sustained by subfreezing temperatures over the past few days.

"This environment is totally different from a snow-covered hill," said Dave Williams, a spokesman for Harford County fire and emergency services. "This is like a luge track at the Olympics. Folks are traveling faster, going farther and losing control.

"You can't stop on this stuff."

Through yesterday, hospitals reported a crush of patients - from a sledder who needed 120 stitches, to a man who slipped on his porch and broke his ankle, to a man struck by a board he had lodged under a tire in an attempt to free his car from an ice bank.

"It's been splint city," said Bill Gough, a nurse practitioner at St. Joseph's Hospital in Towson. "I've never put so many splints on in all my life."

The injuries have been different from those seen during typical snowstorms, officials said. Hospitals are accustomed to treating heart attacks, back problems and other injuries associated with shoveling snow or other high- exertion activities. But in the past week, they have dealt with many broken bones and lacerations because of the ice.

"We're seeing more slips and falls than anything," said Dr. Prudence Jackson, attending physician at the emergency room in St. Agnes Hospital. "About a third of the patients this weekend were people who fell on the ice."

A man in his 60s showed up at the emergency room with a leg injury after attempting to free his car from ice, Jackson said. He had put a wooden plank under a tire and started pushing the car, but the plank flipped up and pierced his leg "like a torpedo," Jackson said. He needed 28 stitches.

Another man came to the emergency room unable to move his hands, which had become cramped after he spent hours chipping at ice. And an elderly man broke his ankle when he slipped on his porch while watching kids sledding, Jackson said.

Many injuries resulted from sledding accidents.

On Friday, a 57-year-old Harford County man was riding a snow saucer down a steep hill behind his home near Bel Air when he crashed head-first into a tree. He died at the scene.

On Sunday, a 61-year-old Fallston woman was hospitalized with head injuries after she crashed into a stand of trees while sledding down a nearly 300-foot hill.

Yesterday, Ryan Conley was riding on a plastic, saucer-like sled at his family's home in the 16000 block of Camalo Drive, in a hilly, rural part of western Howard County, said Bill Mould, a spokesman for the county fire and rescue services.

The teenager crashed into a tree at 11:54 a.m. A sibling, who neighbors said was Conley's twin sister, called 911. Firefighters were unable to reach the youth initially because the hill was so steep and slippery, and they had to tie ropes and pulleys to trees, Mould said.

Glenelg Principal Karl Schindler was returning home from a PTSA-sponsored bowl-athon when he learned of Conley's death.

"It's very, very tragic news," he said, adding that he would be spending the night communicating with his school staff and preparing to greet his 1,182 students today - and wanting to have the school system's crisis intervention team available.

In Harford County alone, at least seven people have been sent to hospitals because of sledding-related accidents, prompting fire officials there to urge residents to "think twice" before sledding.

"We can't tell people not to go sledding, but we are asking that people use precaution," said Williams, of the county's fire and emergency services.

Some sledders were undeterred.

Pat Gilbert, a 43-year-old stock trader, took his two young sons and their friend to a 300-foot hill overlooking Charles Street in Towson yesterday morning.

He joked that given all the accidents in recent days, some people might call him irresponsible for allowing the children to sled.

"I certainly wouldn't send these guys out on their own," Gilbert said as he leaned against his car at the bottom of the hill, keeping an eye on the children. "But where do you draw the line? I guess you could go skiing at Roundtop and argue that it was just as dangerous."

He also pointed out that the hill, in front of the Baltimore County Board of Education building, has only one tree, which could be avoided.

"This is the best hill," said Will Lansinger, 10, who had come with the Gilberts. "It's faster with ice. It's making the boards more slick."

By noon, about 10 people were sledding down the hill as motorists zoomed by on Charles Street below. The bottom of the hill has a small ditch and an embankment that would prevent sledders from sliding into traffic.

Bambi Glenn brought her 9-year-old son, Josh, who had the day off from school and had gotten bored at her office.

As her son trekked up the hill with a green and black sled that resembled a boogie board, Glenn said she was not concerned about the reports of injuries because they seemed to be of a "freakish nature."

"They're less likely to act stupid when their parents are there," said Glenn, 39, a lawyer from Towson.

Frank Hodgetts took turns sledding down the hill with his 10-year-old daughter and 7-year-old son.

Hodgetts said he felt as though he was sledding on an ice rink. He said he was concerned to hear of the sledding accidents.

"It's taught us to be a little more conscientious," he said. But, he added, "I come from upstate New York. Sledding is sort of a natural thing you do."

josh.mitchell@baltsun.com

Sun reporters Laura Barnhardt, Gina Davis, Mary Gail Hare, Richard Irwin and Tyrone Richardson contributed to this article.

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