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Chicagoans Dodge Falling Ice

By Charles Sheehan
Associated Press Writer
Thursday, Dec. 14, 2000; 8:21 p.m. EST

CHICAGO –– Sonny Skinner and a 4-foot chunk of ice crossed paths Thursday. The ice whistled downward from a Chicago skyscraper, missing Skinner by less that a foot.

"It's only by the grace of God that I wasn't killed," he said. Skinner cringed as shards of ice hit his legs, but then pulled his jacket over his head and ran.

Skinner was part of a seasonal ritual in Chicago that has people sidestepping, weaving or flat-out sprinting down sidewalks to avoid falling ice. Warning signs crop up around city buildings at the first freeze and remain until spring.

Skinner, however, was well outside the area roped off with yellow "Caution Falling Ice" signs. "They didn't do me much good right there," he said. "There's nothing they can do."

While most of the ice falls harmlessly to the pavement, one downtown hospital reported treating eight people for falling ice-related injuries Thursday.

Four of those injured suffered lacerations that required stitches, but all of the injuries were considered minor, said Dr. Demetrios Kyriacou at Northwestern Memorial Hospital.

And in the Windy City – where ice can fall, say, 40 to 60 floors and get blown sideways the length of a city block before crashing to the ground – such accidents can have tragic consequences.

A Wisconsin family settled a $4.5 million lawsuit last year after a microwave-size piece of ice fell from the Neiman Marcus building, crushing the skull and vertebrae of Donald Booth, 48. He was killed instantly.

Chicago lawyer David Wise, who represented Booth's family, said his office is almost always handling a case involving falling ice.

New York and Minneapolis also report injuries from falling ice. In central Moscow, with its many slanted roofs, people die every year, horribly stabbed or smashed by icicles. And in Kiev, Ukraine, hundreds of workers with shovels, ropes and crowbars try to avoid the problem by climbing on roofs to loosen accumulated ice and snow.

The city of Chicago in the past has closed hazardous sections of downtown, but that hasn't happened so far this year. After a major storm dumped more than a foot of snow on the city this week, the city issued a reminder to building owners to watch for buildups of ice and snow.

"City inspectors assigned to monitor facades of downtown buildings for cracks or fissures also look for snow buildup or dangerous ice," said Kristen Lobbins-Cabanban, spokeswoman for the Buildings Department. "They go into buildings and speak with building managers about potential problems."

But Lobbins-Cabanban said responsibility for the problem falls squarely on the shoulders of building owners. Otherwise, the problem can fall squarely on pedestrians.

Kim Johnson, who works in a downtown law office, said she was standing next to man who was struck on Wednesday. "He had a big gash and blood all over his coat where a piece of ice had fallen from this building and gashed his head," Johnson said.

Asked how she gets between the train station and her office every day, Johnson said, "Very quickly."

© Copyright 2000 The Associated Press

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