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Sledding death touches many

December 20, 2000

Sledding death touches many



By BOB PARTLOW / Staff Writer, Martinsburg


MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - The families and emergency workers who had to face the death of a 5-year-old boy in a sledding accident on Needmore Loop Tuesday afternoon were dealing with the emotional aftermath of the incident Wednesday.

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Police and medical personnel who responded to the accident will have a chance to talk about their feelings in a private meeting tonight.

The family of Timothy Lee Moffit of Needmore Loop has decided to have no services or visitation. A memorial service may be scheduled later, according to Rosedale Funeral Home and Cemetery.

Moffit's mother Darla Shoemaker could not be reached for comment. A spokesman for the funeral home said the family does not want to speak publicly.

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Jeff Allen Butts, 11, a neighbor who was sledding with Moffit, was listed in fair condition Wednesday evening in City Hospital.

"I thank the Lord he is alive," said Butts' mother Candace Barrett, 28, sitting by his side in the hospital room. "He could be gone."

Robert Clopper, 20, Martinsburg, who hit the two boys, talked with both families to express his regret.

Moffit was killed and Butts injured when the sled they were riding was hit by a Pontiac Grand Prix driven by Clopper, 20, of Martinsburg, W.Va. He will not be charged, said Trooper R.A. Spearen, II, who investigated the accident.

"He was just a victim of circumstance," Spearen said. "He was on his way to work."

Clopper lifted his car off the boys once he hit them after he came around a blind corner in low gear to find them in the road. Clopper then rolled his car down an embankment. His car was a total loss.

"There were angels with me, I guarantee you that," Clopper said of his ability to pull the car off Butts. "I knew I had to do something. I couldn't leave that boy under the car."

"It was just split second," Clopper said.

Barrett said Clopper did all he could to save the boys.

"I came out of the house and we didn't know where he was at first," Barrett said of her son. "He said 'you go call 911. I'll find your boy.' And he did."

Clopper's uncle Warren Clopper said his nephew "is really torn up about all this." He holds two jobs, working as a mechanic at MS Carriers, Inc. and as a military police officer at the Air National Guard base in Pikeside.

"He's just a good kid," said his uncle. "And he really likes kids. It's just such a tragic accident that no one wanted to happen."

Warren Clopper said the family is trying to find the money to provide counseling for his nephew.

"I'm not worried about myself," Robert Clopper said. "I'm worried about those families. I'll be praying for them. I've offered my heartfelt apologies to both families. "

He also plans to keep in touch with them. "I've already visited them once and I'll do it again," he said.

Spearen has been a trooper about three months and this is the first fatality he investigated.

"What made this even harder is this was someone who didn't even have a chance to experience life," said Spearen, who has a 3-year-old child. "It kind of stunned me, but then you have to get on with your job."

Incidents like this lead to the type of debriefings that will be held tonight, said Gary Collis, program manager for the Berkeley County Ambulance Authority.

"This is not that uncommon," Collis said. "It only involves the people that were involved with the incident. We may have a psychologist, a doctor, maybe a retired firefighter or (emergency medical service) person. These people just sit down in a group and discuss the incident that has taken place. It's all done in a very private, confidential way. It's usually held within a day or two of the event.

"It really helps the individuals. This is such a difficult job on a daily basis. We lose a lot of people in pre-hospital care (such as those first on the scene of an incident) because of these kinds of incidents. Some people are able to deal with it better than others. Especially at this time of year, it's more difficult to cope with than others."

Justin Caldwell, rescue chief for South Berkeley Fire Co. that responded to the sledding accident, said he has attended a couple such discussions.

"I was reluctant to go at first, but it really does help the people get through it," said Caldwell, who was not on the scene Tuesday. "I just think people realize they aren't the only ones feeling the way they do. It's especially tough when you are dealing with (children). We just encourage everybody involved in an incident to go."

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