Teen 'a hero' in chickenhouse collapse, father says; other local news

Teen 'a hero' in chickenhouse collapse, father says; other local news
Firefighters respond to a chickenhouse collapse near Ellendale on Tuesday. Photo courtesy of Ellendale Fire Company/Tamara Skis.

Here's a look at news and events from around southern Delaware this week.

Teen helps rescue girl after chickenhouse collapse near Ellendale

A teen’s quick thinking and action helped prevent worse injury after a chickenhouse roof collapsed near Ellendale on Tuesday afternoon, his father Allan Austin said.

State police said it appears the roof collapsed from the weight of the snow from the storm that dumped more than a foot of snow in parts of southern Delaware. University of Delaware data showed more than 14 inches fell in Ellendale, and it was a wet snow, making the load heavier.

Nathan Austin, 17, was working in the chickenhouse and a few other people had pitched in to help, Allan Austin, who owns the farm, said. Police said a man and woman along with three girls ages 11-14 were in the building at the time.

Nathan Austin saw something wasn’t right – the food and water lines were sagging – and tried to get everyone out.

“If he hadn’t started telling people to get out it could have been a lot worse,” Allan Austin said.

One of the girls seemed to be in shock and Nathan went back to get her, Allan Austin said, when he heard the roof pop and debris fell on him. Nathan was able to find the door and crawl to it to get out. He called 911 and began the search for the girl.

Police said Nathan Austin and the man with him began digging through the debris and found the girl, age 12, pinned. Allan Austin said the girl was face down in the chicken manure and couldn’t breathe, so Nathan dug out around her face and used lumber for leverage to get debris off her.

Inside the chickenhouse after the collapse. Photo courtesy of Ellendale Fire Company/Tamara Skis 

As he understands it, first responders got to the scene in just about record time, Allan Austin said, and finished getting the girl out. She was flown to Nemours but was able to return home that evening.

Another girl, age 11, was also taken to a nearby hospital and released after being checked out, police said.

Ellendale Fire Company said in a Facebook post that it responded to the scene along with Georgetown EMS, Sussex County EMS and Sussex County Technical Rescue Team. An ambulance from Bridgeville and Delaware State Police also responded.

With the return of the 12-year-old girl from the hospital, everyone involved in the incident is home and doing well, Allan Austin said.

“In my eyes he’s a hero,” he said of his son’s response.

Allan Austin said they didn’t lose all the chickens in the house, but it’s now out of commission and as long as that’s the case it will have a financial impact.

But, he said, “Everybody being safe is more important.”

Adapting to the COVID surge

COVID cases continue to spike in Delaware, with 666 hospitalizations as of Thursday according to the state. Seventy of those cases are listed as critical. Last week, the Division of Public Health reported 485 people hospitalized, which was a pandemic record at that point.  

The surge has universities and schools considering adjustments as they come off winter break. Wilmington University announced it will be doing remote classes for the first week of the term, starting Jan. 10, and get back to normal Jan. 18.

University of Delaware also announced it was moving most classes online for the first week. It required testing when it started up this week for students on all campuses, except for those who have tested positive for COVID in the past 30 days and notified the university through the appropriate channels. All students have to have a booster shot and masking is required in public spaces.  

As far as COVID testing, which has been in high demand with the surge, the snowstorm this week required some flexibility for testing sites. The state did not release a flyer with sites and dates like it usually does, but you can find an updated list here.

The city of Seaford closed its lobby at the town office starting Jan. 3 because of the surge until further notice. It said the drive-thru would still be open and staff will be working and available by phone. Appointments are possible with staff if necessary.

Bridgeville’s town hall reopened after the holiday and the snow on Wednesday, but the town asked people who come in to wear a mask.

Laurel Public Library will be holding a flu and COVID vaccine event on Friday, Jan. 7 from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m., in partnership with Express Pharmacy. No registration is required, but people can fill out the consent form in advance to save time. They should also bring a photo ID, insurance information and any previous COVID vaccine cards. Children 3 and over can get the flu shot, and children 5 and over can get the COVID shot.

Middleford Speedway faces a key zoning hearing

The Middleford Speedway, a dirt racetrack east of Seaford on Coverdale Road, may get a chance to make its case before the Sussex County Planning and Zoning Commission this month. At stake: Whether it will continue to be allowed to hold all the types of racing it has been featuring.  

Last fall, a letter from the track circulated on social media, saying area residents had been contacting officials about noise, dust and traffic from the speedway, and asking for fans to support the track. Soon after, the speedway emphatically posted on its Facebook page that it would not be shutting down, and had gotten a temporary conditional use permit to allow racing to continue until a public hearing.

Middleford Speedway said it already has approval to race go-karts, motorcycles, and anything powered by a motorcycle engine. What’s in question is its ability to race four-cylinder vehicles.

County officials say a hearing is tentatively scheduled for the Jan. 27 Planning and Zoning Commission meeting.

The track came under new ownership in 2017 when Greg Mitchell bought it.

Mitchell has been reluctant to comment about the matter before the hearing, but he did tell Delaware State News’ Glenn Rolfe that it was over a neighbor complaining about what they saw as a violation of the zoning rules.  

While the speedway was allowed to continue operating as normal under the temporary permit, there’s no guarantee it will persuade commissioners. A conditional use application means that Planning and Zoning will make a recommendation to County Council about whether to allow the track to host 4-cylinder racing, and under what conditions. The Council will then make a final decision.

Changing of the seasons

Local sale for a local newspaper

The Cape Gazette, which has served the beach area since 1993, has been sold but will stay locally owned.

Co-founders Dennis Forney and Trish Vernon sold the company to co-publisher Chris Rausch, who is a Delaware native and has been with the company since 2003, according to the paper.

You can read all about it in – where better? – this Cape Gazette article.

Rausch said in the article he’s excited to keep the paper’s legacy as a locally owned and operated community newspaper.  

A deadly week on southern Delaware roads

Teen boy dies in crash near Milton

A 17-year-old boy died in a head-on collision on Route 9 on Saturday morning, Delaware State Police say.

Ryan Carbajal of Georgetown was driving a car west on Route 9 at around 7:55 a.m., just past the intersection with Hudson Road, when he crossed over a left turn lane and into the eastbound lane and collided with a sedan.

Carbajal was pronounced dead at Beebe Medical Center. The other driver, a 30-year-old man from Lewes, was also taken to Beebe Medical Center with serious injuries, police said.

Both drivers were wearing seat belts.

Man dies in single-vehicle crash near Felton

A 55-year-old man died Monday morning in a crash on Firetower Road northwest of Felton, police say.

The man, whose name has not been released pending notification of family, was driving a Jeep just east of Berrytown Road around 6:48 a.m. when his vehicle left the road, hit a ditch, then collided with a large tree, Delaware State Police said.

The man was not properly restrained and was pronounced dead at the scene.

At the time, police said the reasons for the crash were unknown. Monday morning was the early stages of the snowstorm that left more than a foot of snow in the area, but police did not say whether road conditions were a factor in the crash.

Pedestrian killed in Felton

State police said Thursday that a 55-year-old Harrington woman died when she was hit by a compact SUV Wednesday night.

The pedestrian was hit in the left lane of Route 13 south, just north of Peach Basket Road, at about 11:12 p.m., police said. The driver stopped a short distance away.

Police said the pedestrian was wearing dark clothing and not carrying a light. She was pronounced dead at the scene. Police have not identified her pending notification of family.

The driver, a 17-year-old girl from Harrington, was not hurt.

The road was closed for about three hours.

Late-breaking crash in Seaford

Delaware State Police reported a fatal crash Thursday afternoon on Atlanta Road in the area of Brighton Road in Seaford. Troopers were sent to the scene at about 12:34 p.m. for a serious crash involving two vehicles.

Police said they they were still investigating and had no more information Thursday afternoon.

Harrington government apologizes for missing water testing

The city of Harrington released a statement Dec. 29 notifying residents the public works department had not done all the required water testing for lead and copper contamination during part of 2021.

Although the city said the situation was not an emergency, during the June to September period it did not collect all the required samples and report the results to the Division of Public Health, and so the city “cannot be sure of the quality of our drinking water during that time,” the statement read.

“We realize we failed the citizens and will strive to do better for you in the future,” the city said.

Body found after fire near Millville

Firefighters responding to a blaze in a garage and apartment on Omar Road between Millville and Frankford on Sunday found a body in the building, the Delaware State Fire Marshal’s Office said.

The fire was reported just before 7 a.m., and the Millville Volunteer Fire Company responded. Officials say the building was heavily damaged.

Investigators are looking at the origin and cause of the fire, and the Division of Forensic Science will do an autopsy. No other injuries were reported, the fire marshal’s office said.

Damage was estimated at $50,000.

Harrington rock band puts out a new album

I did not know about Harrington rock band Dutchman, but that doesn’t mean much as my friends will tell you I’m woefully out of touch with pop culture. I can’t speak with any authority on how famous Dutchman is or is not, but I can tell you they put out a new album in December, creatively titled “Vol. 3,” which follows “Vol. 1” and “Vol. 2.”

I did check out the album on Spotify and thought the music sounded good – a bit of a contemplative, classic rock feel. The band cites artists like Eric Clapton, Led Zeppelin and Lynyrd Skynyrd as influences, but says it also shoots for a more modern sound.  


The Delmarva Model Railroad Club is holding open houses Saturday and Sunday, Jan. 8-9 and 15-16, when visitors can look over its more than 8,000 square feet of operating model train layouts in various scales.  

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