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West Newton church organist thankful for life after fall into pool

Paul Peirce
| Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2016, 11:00 p.m.

Jim Sykes was reluctant to say that serving more than 25 years as organist and choir director at the West Newton United Presbyterian Church paid off in the midst of Tuesday's blinding snowstorm.

“I should really be dead. I don't know if I'd say that ... but He definitely was watching over me,” said Sykes, 60, a well-known West Newton piano and voice teacher.

Sykes was home alone Tuesday when he attempted to clear snow from a satellite receiver on his roof and plunged into his ice-covered swimming pool.

Sykes said it was about 1:30 p.m. in the midst of the snowstorm that dumped about 3 inches in West Newton, and he had spent the afternoon taking telephone calls from parents of pupils canceling their afternoon music lessons at his North Water Street home. The wind chill made the 14-degree temperature feel even colder.

“The roads were just about impassable with all of the snow and wind at that time,” Sykes said. And the snow blocked his satellite television reception.

After the snowfall tapered off, Sykes went out back to grab the pool skimmer next to his in-ground swimming pool.

“I use the telescope-type cleaner from my swimming pool to brush snow from the satellite receiver on top of my roof,” he said. “I felt one foot sink down into the ground, and then I realized I had stepped into the pool skimmer that was covered in snow.”

Sykes, who said he weighs about 300 pounds, tried to free his leg from the skimmer and slipped.

“I ended up falling backwards, through the thin sheet of ice into the water. I really didn't think at that point I would live,” he said.

“I had fallen through the mesh pool cover, I had all my winter clothes on that were now soaked, and my left foot was still stuck inside the skimmer. I was submersed in that freezing water on my back.”

Sykes said he was able to maneuver his foot from the skimmer.

“But I thought I was still going to die there because it was so cold, and I didn't think with all the weight I could lift myself out. There wasn't anybody around.”

Sykes said he found the strength to pull himself out of the partially drained pool and crawl on his hands and knees through the snow and into the house to call for help.

Even in the warmth of his home, Sykes said he had trouble breathing.

“I'm still literally laid up,” he said. “My ankle is throbbing, and my back is really hurting. But I am alive, and I am very thankful for that. It all happened so fast.”

Paul Peirce is a Tribune-Review staff writer. He can be reached at 724-850-2860 or ppeirce@tribweb.com.

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