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Heroic rescue in Kent

By Deborah Guziakand Heather CondleyRecord-Cou Published: March 31, 1998 12:00 AM

A Franklin Township woman and her nearly 4-year-old son remained hospitalized this morning after the boy was thrown into the Cuyahoga River in Kent when the pair were struck by a car on the West Main Street bridge Monday.

Laura Diblik, 34, of Birchwood Drive, was listed in serious condition in the intensive care unit of Akron City Hospital this morning. Her son, almost 4, is expected to be released from Children's' Hospital Medical Center of Akron today.

The driver of the car was Richard R. Tardif, 46, of Woodard Avenue in Kent, who was transported to Robinson Memorial Hospital in Ravenna where he remained under observation this morning.

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The child landed in the 12-foot-deep river and was rescued immediately by James Luli, 19, of Cook Road in Rootstown, who went into the river after the boy.

"He is a hero," Kent Police Chief James Peach said.

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Police did not release the child's name because of his age. Diblik's parents, who were walking with their daughter and grandson when the crash occurred at about 7:30 p.m. were not injured.

Tardif's westbound car traveled left of center and jumped the sidewalk. It hit a light pole, which fell and knocked over a second light pole. The car then struck the family, pinning Diblik under the car and sending her son over the bridge's railing, according to Kent police.

Tardif, who has been charged with aggravated vehicular assault, a fourth-degree felony, apparently lost control of his vehicle as it came over the railroad tracks just before the bridge, Peach said.

"We will be looking at more-detailed reports and witness statements to determine if that's the appropriate charge down the line," said Portage County Prosecutor Victor Vigluicci who was at the scene.

Kent State University student Jennifer Patronis and Kent resident Brett Grenesko were sitting by the water at River Edge Park, below the Main Street Bridge around 7:30 p.m. when they heard a loud crashing noise above them, which was immediately followed by screams.

"We thought it was a train," Grenesko said.

After rushing up the stairs to the bridge, the pair saw Kent police officers and other by-standers attempting to lift Tardif's car off Diblik.

"We actually heard people screaming, 'Get help.' We knew something had happened," Patronis said. "The police response was awesome. They were there by the time we got up the stairs."

After learning that the woman's son had fallen over the bridge railing into the water below, Grenesko said he raced down the stairs to try to save the boy.

"Someone had already pulled the baby out by the time I got down there. But he was crying and he looked good," he said. "Two days ago there wasn't any water in (the river). (Monday night) it was full of water. That probably saved the boy."

Patronis said when she and Grenesko reached the bridge, the scene was chaotic.

"It was all crazy because everyone in the vicinity was running," she said.

Patronis said she and Grenesko were just getting ready to leave the park when the accident happened.

"I thank my lucky stars. I can't imagine. If we had gone 15 minutes earlier it could have been us. It was just a matter of minutes," she said.

Peach said the accident is still under investigation and that blood and urine samples were taken from Tardif. Kent police are awaiting the results of lab tests performed on the samples, but preliminary reports show alcohol and drugs were not involved in the crash, Vigluicci said. The felony charges could result in a sentence of six to 18 months in prison.

Deanna Hohler-Bottar contributed to this story.

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