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June 23, 2013

Survivor’s harrowing tale of trail

JOHNSTOWN — What started as a joy ride for Brianna Rose Fox ended with the tragic loss of a close friend and a frightening run for help.

Fox, 22, of the Vinco area of Jackson Township and a full-time student at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, and Paul “PJ” Taylor were attending a 40th birthday party for a friend on a farm in the Revloc area of Cambria Township. Fox, who is best friends with his sister, Maggie, asked the 23-year-old to take her for a spin on another friend’s Polaris Razor, which is an all-terrain vehicle with two seats.

It started simply enough.

“PJ took me for a ride. We rode around the farm,” she said.

Eventually, they headed out onto an old railroad line that is now a popular, if unintended, trail for ATV enthusiasts.

“We’ve all been back there before, we just forgot about the bridge,” she said.

“The bridge” is a dilapidated old span across Williams Creek. The yellow steel structure is covered with rotting railroad ties and portions of the bridge have given way in the past, with planks and a piece of tin used to patch the gaping holes in it.

Fox said Taylor tried to stop the vehicle, but that the ATV slid on the shale and crossed the bridge before the vehicle flew over the side.

Taylor struck a stone retaining wall, state police said, and landed in the shallow water about 14 feet beneath the bridge. He sustained massive head injuries and died instantly, according to Cambria County Deputy Coroner Jeffrey Lees.

Taylor was not wearing a helmet or a seat harness, but Fox, thanks to Taylor, was wearing a harness.

“PJ told me to put it on,” she said.

Fox suffered a contusion of her bladder and internal bleeding along with a badly bruised body and a foot injury.

“I don’t remember the impact,” she said.

But she definitely recalls the aftermath.

“I was so frantic at that point,” she said. “I just saw his face in the water. I pulled his face out of the water.”

She checked Taylor for a pulse, put her hand on his chest and thought she felt a deep breath.

“I thought there was hope,” she said. “I climbed the hill and crossed the bridge.”

She had a cellphone with her but it landed in the water after the crash and was of no use. That meant she had to head back the way they had come.

She took off on the isolated trail in the middle of the night, running on the injured foot for nearly a mile.

“I just felt like I was running forever,” she said. “I was afraid something would jump out and attack me. It was very dark and I ran forever.”

She eventually spotted a house, where a resident called 911 for her.

Fox admits she is lucky to be alive today and said she will forever remember Taylor.

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