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Teen collapses, dies in crowd watching St. Patricks Day parade
StPatricks Savannah1
Isabelle Russell, left, and her friends Reed Wixson and Mattie Brennan, right, watch the St. Patrick's Day parade from behind a steel barricade, Friday, March 14, 2008 in Savannah, Ga. Savannah's 184-year-old celebration of its strong Irish heritage draws up to 400,000 party guests a year to the historic Southern city. - photo by Associated Press
    SAVANNAH — Police briefly halted Savannah’s sprawling St. Patrick’s Day parade Friday when a 15-year-old boy collapsed among the crowd of thousands and later died after being rushed to a hospital.
    The death was an uncommon tragedy for this coastal city’s biggest holiday, when up to 400,000 people line the cobblestone streets with plastic cups of beer to toast the procession of pipe-and-drum bands, gaudy floats and dignitaries riding in shamrock-decorated convertibles.
    Savannah-Chatham County police were investigating the death of the boy, identified as Mark Dorsey of nearby Rincon, but there was no indication of foul play, spokesman Sgt. Mike Wilson said. Dorsey had a pre-existing medical condition, Wilson said, that may have contributed to his death.
    Elizabeth Stephens wept as she described how she sat in her chair by the curb watching the parade near the Savannah riverfront when the boy collapsed face-first into her lap.
    ‘‘He was standing by me and all of a sudden her fell all over me,’’ said Stephens, who was visiting Savannah from Newington in northern Georgia. ‘‘His face was already blue.’’
    Spectator Kay Hirsch said onlookers immediately began to dial 911 on their cell phones as the boy’s father watched as if in shock. Police stopped the parade for about 15 minutes so an ambulance could get in to rush the boy to the hospital.
    Before the ambulance arrived, Kelly Bobbitt — an emergency room nurse watching the parade nearby — began administering CPR with the help of another off-duty nurse in the crowd.
    ‘‘When I got to him, he had no pulse,’’ Bobbitt said. ‘‘Then he got a pulse back, a very faint pulse. But he’d take a breath only every two or three minutes.’’
    Bobbitt said she suspected the boy may have had a heart condition. When she lifted his shirt, she said, she noticed a scar down the center of his chest ‘‘like you would have from open-heart surgery.’’
    Georgia’s oldest city has celebrated St. Patrick’s Day for 184 years, a tradition started by Irish immigrants who settled here in the early 19th century. It’s since evolved into the city’s most lucrative tourist event and the South’s biggest street party between Mardis Gras and Florida’s bustling spring break.
    Serious mishaps are a rarity, though the 2004 parade was marred when a parade convertible veered off the route and plowed into crowded Wright Square, injuring nine people.
    Though Savannah typically marks St. Pat’s on the traditional March 17, the city’s largely Catholic parade organizers scheduled it three days early to avoid celebrating Monday during Holy Week — the week between Palm Sunday and Easter. It’s a quirk of the calendar that hasn’t happened since 1913, and isn’t expected again 2160.
    Throngs of revelers turned out despite any confusion over the parade’s early arrival, though many had more elbow room than they’re used to seeing in the oak-shaded squares and along the brick sidewalks normally packed with people.
    ‘‘This is a little lighter than you’d normally see,’’ said Dennis Rice, 40, of Atlanta, who’s been gathering for years with family and friends in Oglethorpe Square. ‘‘Typically, it’s a lot more crowded.’’
    Sue Murphy of Jacksonville, Fla., planned months in advance to celebrate her husband Brian’s 50th birthday with more than 40 friends in Savannah on St. Patrick’s Day. She rented a charter bus to take them on the two-hour trip, booked a rental house for friends flying in from out of town.
    And they scheduled all of their plans around Monday the 17th until Murphy found out in late January that the date had changed.
    ‘‘We had people flying in from all over and they had to change their flights,’’ said Murphy, wearing a green beehive wig and glittery emerald glasses. ‘‘We had to extend the rental house a couple of days. It was very costly.’’
    And what if they hadn’t found out to show up three days early?
    ‘‘We would have gotten off the bus on Monday dressed like this,’’ Murphy said. ‘‘We would have been the parade!’’

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