Dec. 28, 2003, a 13-year-old boy, Harry "Scooter" Neff, fell from a railroad bridge in Tiffin and sustained a fatal head injury. Monday, the boy's sister, Haley Neff, and three other young women walked along the Sandusky River in Scooter's memory.
Haley and Leslie Patrick traveled from their home in Kendalville, Ind., specifically to make the walk. A cousin, Kayla Tyree, and Kaleigh Abbott, both of Tiffin, bundled up to go along.
When the women had completed the loop, Haley recalled the day when she lost her brother. She was 12 at the time.
PHOTO BY MARYANN KROMER
Haley Neff (left) walks with Leslie Patrick, Kayla Tyree and Kaleigh Abbot in memory of Haley’s brother, Scooter Neff. Behind them is the railroad bridge from which Scooter fell to his death nine years ago.
"It was pretty awful. We were down three days after Christmas, visiting family. That's when it happened," Haley said.
Haley and Scooter's mother, Melissa Carter Warwick, still has family members living in Tiffin.
Haley said Scooter had been staying with a family friend, Odia Halcomb, who lived near the bridge, while the rest of the family was staying with Haley's grandparents on Miami Street.
First responders were called to the bridge at Riverside Drive at 1:17 a.m., according to newspaper reports.
Halcomb told the police he and Scooter had been walking on the bridge when they dropped a paint-ball gun barrel. While they were searching for it in the dark, Halcomb said his friend fell off the deck and into the river.
Halcomb said he jumped into the water to find Scooter but was unsuccessful. He climbed out and ran to a home in the neighborhood to call for help.
Police and firefighters located Scooter in shallow water at 2:30 a.m. about a half-mile north of the bridge.
Police Chief Dave LaGrange noted the boy had a head injury. An autopsy by the Lucas County coroner determined Scooter died from hitting his head when he fell. No foul play was indicated.
Because of conflicting details, and only one witness, Haley and her family were not so sure Scooter's death was an accident. They would have liked a more thorough investigation.
"He said they were on the viaduct, but there's no way my brother would have got up there, because he was afraid of heights. ... We never really figured out what happened," Haley said.
Warwick, Haley and other friends and relatives started doing the annual walk to remember Scooter. The route runs from the former Rainbow Muffler site, down Water Street, across the Huss Street bridge and back along Riverside Drive to pass under the bridge from which Scooter fell.
Haley remembered knee-deep snow the second year. Last year, her mother was too ill with stage 4 breast cancer to make the trek. She died in January 2012.
Because Haley was sick Dec. 28, she had to postpone the walk until Dec. 31 this year. As a result, the group of walkers was small, but Patrick, who had been Scooter's best friend, did not miss out.
"Leslie's been there through it all. She's walked every year with me," Haley said.
With her mother deceased, Haley now lives with her grandparents in Kendallville and attends school in Fort Wayne.
She plans to continue the traditional walk to honor her brother and now her mother, as well.
"I do my walk, and we stop at Napoli's and get a foldover and head home," Haley said.