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Portland woman, 18, rushes to save 9-month-old after collapsed power line kills 3; ‘I just did what any sane person would’

Majiah Washington, 18, saw a flash from her window in Northeast Portland on Wednesday morning. She opened the blinds to find a collapsed power line on top of a neighbor’s car and a tree branch on the ground. She watched as members of the neighboring family, who appeared to have been getting into their SUV, tried suddenly to escape it. A small fire grew under the car.

A man holding a baby, later described as 9 months old, slipped down a driveway, and the man’s foot touched the live wire, Washington said. A woman, identified by a family friend as 21 and six months pregnant, rushed towards the man to get the child, slipping on the ice and hitting the live power line as well, Washington said.

Washington, who attended Jefferson High School and works as a day care provider, said she watched a teenager approach the SUV while she called 911. The teen — identified as Milwaukie High School sophomore Ta’Ron Briggs — would die in the accident as well.

Washington, though, was ready to act. “The baby moved his head … and that’s how I knew he was still here,” she said Thursday at a press conference organized by Portland Fire & Rescue.

Washington braved the ice, losing her footing at times, to grab the baby. A 911 operator cautioned her to stay safe, Washington said.

“The only thing I could think about was he was still here,” she said. “I wasn’t thinking ‘Oh, I can be electrocuted.’ I was thinking, ‘I need to grab this baby.’”

Washington swaddled up the baby and walked to safety before firefighters arrived. The baby was taken to a nearby hospital and appears to be healthy.

“I can’t believe it happened,” Washington said. “It’s hard to grasp.”

Portland Fire & Rescue spokesperson Rick Graves said the agency was thankful for Washington’s brave actions and that she later told officials, “I just did what any sane person would do.”

Firefighters responded to reports of the downed power line just before 11:45 a.m. Wednesday to find the three family members — two adults and the teen — lying on the ground approximately 35 feet from the SUV. The power line was draped over the vehicle, pinned down by a large tree branch that had collided with the wire. Authorities have not identified the two adults, though family friends have said they were the baby’s parents and the teen was the woman’s brother.

The rescued child, initially reported to be 2 years old, is 9 months old, Washington said.

Majiah Washington recounted how she rescued a 9-month-old boy after members of his family were apparently electrocuted by a downed power line in Portland on Wednesday, Jan. 17, 2024. Washington spoke during a press conference at Portland Fire & Rescue Headquarters downtown Portland.

Michael Johnson, the family friend who has known the Briggs family for 25 years, said the baby’s mother and her boyfriend were visiting her father’s house to grab a laptop to watch shows while power was out at her home. He said her mother and father also happened to be outside when the event unfolded, killing two of their six children.

“It’s been incredibly difficult for them,” Johnson said.

Graves cautioned people to avoid downed wires. If a power line comes down onto a car, occupants should stay inside the car and call 911 unless there is “imminent danger,” Graves said. A car’s rubber tires will protect occupants.

The ice storm that hit Oregon over the weekend has claimed at least 12 lives in the Portland area. On Saturday, two people were killed by falling trees in separate incidents as strong winds and freezing temperatures wreaked havoc on the metro area. Two other people were killed in a church fire Sunday morning; firefighters are investigating whether a generator in use in the church’s gymnasium may have contributed.

Multnomah County has identified four suspected hypothermia deaths since freezing temperatures, high winds and snow rolled in over the weekend. Washington County officials are investigating a suspected hypothermia death, too.

Forecasters predict more freezing rain in the Portland area through Thursday.

– Austin De Dios; adedios@oregonian.com; @austindedios; 503-319-9744

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