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September 25, 1999

Byline: By Beverly Ford, The Arizona Republic A Phoenix woman drowned in 1 foot of water after falling headfirst into an irrigation pipe while apparently trying to open a valve, authorities said Friday.

Rescuers who heard the woman's screams tried to pull Karen Ann Parks to safety Thursday night but were unable to hoist the 38-year-old Highland Street resident out of the pipe in time.

"When I saw her in there headfirst, I knew she was in trouble," said neighbor John McCaleb, who tried to pull Parks out of the 3-foot-wide pipe with the help of two other men.

"I could see her feet sticking up, and we grabbed her and tried to at least get her head out of the water."

By the time rescuers were able to remove the heavyset Parks from the pipe, she was already unconscious, McCabe said. She was pronounced dead at the Arizona Heart Hospital at 12:45 a.m. Friday, about 45 minutes after police were called to the scene.

Parks, the sister of two Phoenix firefighters, went to the irrigation pipe at North 29th and Mariposa streets, apparently to divert water to her neighborhood about two blocks away, authorities said.

"There was nothing unusual about her being there. She had probably done that a thousand times," Deputy Fire Chief Bob Khan said. "But this time, it looks like she lost her footing and fell in."

The pipe, which stands about 2 1/2 feet above ground and about 4 feet below, was filled with about a foot of water at the time of the accident, authorities said. v Homeowners must turn a paddle inside the pipe to divert the water to different neighborhoods for irrigation.

Khan said it was the first time in his 17 years with the department that he has seen someone drown in an irrigation pipe.

"We see a lot of things out there on this job, but this is one of the most bizarre," said Kahn, who works with the victim's two brothers, Capt. Brian Parks and Firefighter Kevin Parks. "It's a fluke and a tragedy for everyone involved."

Parks was dedicated to her wheelchair-bound father with whom she lived, neighbors said, adding that although she didn't work full time, she often baby-sat.

"She was a wonderful person, always smiling, always happy," said McCaleb, who grew up in the same neighborhood with Parks. "She was a very kind person. It's a tragedy she died like that."

Neighbors said Thursday's accident illustrates the dangers of the pipes, which bring water from Salt River Project canals to irrigate residents' lawns.

"They are not maintained very well," said Susan Jahn, whose front lawn holds the irrigation pipe where Parks drowned.

She said the paddle used to shift the waters to other neighborhoods had been broken for years, forcing residents to bend over into the pipe to reach it.

But SRP spokesman Wallace Reynolds said that the pipes are not owned by SRP and that maintenance is the responsibility of homeowners or neighborhood associations.

"It's not our responsibility at all," Reynolds said.

Reproduced with permission from:
The Arizona Republic
Byline: By Beverly Ford
©Copyright 1999 Arizona Republic

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