When 16-year-old Kevin Conklin saw a young boy who was playing in deep rain water get sucked into a drain pipe under a Bethlehem Township road Tuesday, he dove in.
“I didn’t know how to react, so I went after him in the hole,” said the Liberty High School student, who didn’t give a thought to the new iPhone that was in his pocket at the time.
His mother, Qiang Conklin, immediately regretted not pulling her son back. Like the young boy, Kevin also disappeared into the pipe under Farmersville Road at Bethlehem Township Municipal Park.
“In that moment, I felt worried I had lost him,” she said Thursday. When he came through the other side, she was amazed by his bravery and selflessness.
“It makes me want to cry,” she said.
The accident happened just after the worst of Tropical Storm Isaias had passed through the region, flooding roads, homes and businesses. One Lehigh Valley woman, Yesenia Then, died after her car was swept away by the flood as she was driving through Upper Saucon Township on her way home to Allentown. The storm trapped people in cars and buildings throughout the Lehigh Valley and caused power outages for many more.
Kevin and his mom were taking a walk just as the rain stopped in the afternoon when they encountered a young boy playing in the water in his swim trunks and goggles.
As Kevin passed through the drain pipe, he remembers he couldn’t see anything for a few seconds and then he was on the other side.
“I was trying to find the kid, so I was calling out for him,” he said. Luckily, as both boys passed through the drain pipe, multiple people stopped to help, including a man who had a ladder.
He helped the younger boy up and then Kevin, who was completely soaked and missing a shoe by the time he got up to the road above the drain pipe, said police Chief Dan Pancoast.
By the time Bethlehem Township police arrived, both boys had been rescued, Pancoast said.
“The actions of the 16-year-old were heroic,” he said. “He is to be commended for putting himself in danger.”
While the boys were not seriously hurt, ambulances took them to hospitals, Conklin said. Kevin suffered some scratches from the drain pipe, but is otherwise doing well. He has yet to meet the little boy he tried to save and doesn’t know his name.
Life hasn’t been easy for the mother and son.
Conklin has raised Kevin as a single mom even since her husband died in a car accident in 2018. She’s worked jobs with flexible hours to care for him.
Conklin was so shaken by the incident that she returned to the spot the next day, when the water had drained, to look at the pipe. She worries that other children will get hurt and wants parents to know it’s not safe to swim in the park.
Township Manager Doug Bruce said he’ll look into the issue, but he’d never heard of such a drain pipe accident prior to Tuesday.
“Overnight, I didn’t sleep,” Conklin said. “…Why did I let my son jump in?”
When Kevin emerged, Conklin filmed him with her phone as he stood looked stunned and soaking wet, wanting to remember the moments after his heroic feat.