Kids survive dangerous trek through storm drain


BLUE SPRINGS, MO (KCTV) — A Blue Springs family says their kids are lucky to be a live after a dangerous and wild ride through a storm drain.

The kids, ages 8 and ten, ended up in the rushing water after sliding into the ditch then went inside the storm drain.

“They were in the dark; it was wet; and they couldn’t breathe at all; and thought they were dying,” said Tara Johnson mother of the children.

They traveled underground, through the pipes, for blocks. The family and KCTV5 both estimate this was at least 600 feet and around the length of 2 football fields.

Eventually, they exited near a rocky creek bed before ending up on the bank.

The kids — bloodied, bruised and shaken — walked home.

“He has a huge bump on his head he isn’t really talking in shock–white in shock,” said Tara. “My daughter is walking but she looks like a ghost.” She rushed the kids to an Emergency Room. Her kids were lucky.

Storm drain danger

Almost every year someone dies in an uncovered storm drain. They get sucked in by rushing water, and either the pipe is too long to survive, or they get stuck.

“It happens all over the place, and these things are very, very dangerous,” said Ken MacKenzie with the Mile High Flood District. He’s a nationwide expert on storm drains.

MacKenzie keeps an unofficially count of all the deaths and accidents. Right now, storm drain deaths are simply lumped in with drownings. Here’s what recently happened in a 2-year period according to MacKenzie.

  • June 30 2014, 17- year old Logan Blake died in Cedar Rapids, IA
  • May 19, 2015, 15- year old John Steiner died in Loreauville, LA
  • May 25, 2015 Captain Jason Farley with the Claremore Fire Department drowned, Lieutenant Zane James suffered serious injuries in Claremore, OK
  • May 24th, 2015 14-year old Damien Blade and his dog died in DeSoto Texas
  • May 31st, 2015 4 people died in Oklahoma City, OK

KCTV5 asked MacKenzie to watch a combination of videos collected by the parents and KCTV5.

“It’s amazing they survived it. It does not look survivable to me,” MacKenzie said. He noted that the kids took a turn and that the water was rushing in from multiple sources.

MacKenzie helped rewrite the rules in Denver, where now storm drains larger than 6-inches are covered. But many municipalities balk and the expense and maintenance of storm drain covers.

Tara wrote a letter to the city of Blue Springs warning about the hazard. The city responded that the system had been designed and constructed using industry standards.

“I was absolutely outraged,” said Tara. She said the city didn’t even go to look at the site.

Blue Springs’ Mayor Carson Ross correctly points out that the city operates under the same set of guidelines as most in the metro. He also expressed concerns about adding grates or covers over pipes.

“Water is dangerous,” Ross said. “if you went headfirst you could be knocked out unconscious and end up drowning. If you went feet first, you could break a leg.”

The mayor promised to review the information we gathered regarding dangerous storm drains and share it with his Public Works Department.

Remembering Christopher Dill

Kansas City has had its own storm drain tragedy.

In 2007, 9-year old Christopher Dill drowned in a storm drain on school property. He was walking to a friend’s house when he slipped and fell.

KCTV5 recently connected with Christopher’s mother.

“How many kids have to die? How many kids need to get trapped and hurt and traumatized for rest of their life? All they have to do is cover it!” Angela Phelps said.

Phelps maintains a memorial where her son died. She fought giant court battles to get the storm drain redesigned.

Today it’s completely different along with safety grates.

Phelps predicted little would be done in the Blue Springs because those children lived.

“They probably aren’t going to do anything because they lived and it’s not national news. That’s pathetic. Something needs to be done, Phelps said.

While researching storm drains, KCTV5 noticed numerous uncovered drains all over the KC Metro. They all meet local standards.

The storm drainpipe in Blue Springs remains uncovered. is now with you on the go! Get the latest news updates and video, StormTrack5 weather forecast, weather radar, special investigative reports, sports headlines and much more from KCTV5 News. 

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