By Walter J. O’Neill, Jr
On Sunday afternoon, March 1, Harriet Hill was sitting in her living room at 8 Wyckoff Road, Eatontown, watching her favorite TV show. “I had the NASCAR race on from Atlanta, I’m a big NASCAR fan,” said Hill, 90, who has lived in that house for over 60 years.
“I am handicapped and was sitting in my lift chair in my living room when I heard a crash,” said Hill. The home is a single level ranch, which makes it easier for her to move around as she needs a walker to steady herself. “I turned my head and there was my stove, on the opposite wall. I said to myself, good God what have you done now. Then I smelled gas, pushed the buttons on the phone, got up and worked my way to the front door and opened it.”As Hill recalls those terrifying moments, tears start to flow down her cheeks.
“I was scared to death. I did the best I could, it was terrible,” Hill said. She turns 91 on April 10, and on that scary Sunday afternoon was unsure if she was going to see that milestone birthday. “Normally that time of day on a Sunday I would have been in the kitchen preparing a baked potato to put in the oven, but I was so into that NASCAR race from Atlanta.”
Hill said that she moves slowly and was on the phone with the 9-1-1 operator telling them she smelled gas. “As I opened the door a young man was walking across the yard while I was on the phone with the operator. He said to me ‘I called the cops.’ I told him, ‘they’re right behind you,’” as they had just arrived. According to Hill, that young man was an employee of the Eatontown School District and was plowing snow at the Meadowbrook School, located directly across from her home.
It appears that he backed across Wyckoff Road, which is four lanes, up over a curb over her front lawn and crashed into the corner of the house were the kitchen was located.
That impact was so strong it sent the stove flying across the room. The gas line had ruptured and gas started to fill the house. “I was so scared it was going to blow up,” Hill said.
Police and firefighters helped her out of the house. “They were telling me to hurry up, but I can’t walk and I don’t do steps as my legs hurt something awful.”
The officers were able to get Hill into a police car away from the house. “I sat in the police car, but it was cold and miserable. They finally went into my house and got my coat,” added Hill. While she was in the police car a man approached her and said he was from the board of education. “My daughter was with me by this time and the man from the Board reassured me that they were fully covered (insured) and not to worry about the damage.”
“I can’t tell you who was there, names or which agency they worked for. But I can say that all the police and fire responded and were very nice,” said Hill.
The last time Hill saw her house the rear of the pick-up truck was wedged into her kitchen. On Tuesday, March 10, she said someone from the board of education had contacted her.
“She told me that they had the truck inspected and a hose had come loose and the driver had no power steering or power breaks,” said Hill.
“I know the young man was upset. But I never saw him again that night,” Hill said. She is very fortunate that her daughter, Donna Smith, who she is now staying with, lives around the corner on Broad Street in Eatontown. “It’s not perfect as she has steps and the home is not handicapped equipped. I can’t get into the shower, but thank God she was here.”
Hill said she has not been back to the house since that night. “I twisted my knee attempting to get down the front steps quickly to get away in case the gas exploded,” she said.
At 90 years old she might have limited motion, but her mind and wit are sharp as ever. She has already contacted a plumber to make sure the water has been turned off, and her insurance adjuster had also been called first thing the following day. “All I can say is oy vey, and thanks to all who came to my assistance that night,” Hill said, wiping a tear away.