on January 07, 2016 at 10:16 PM, updated January 08, 2016 at 5:04 PM
New Jersey State Police charged two women after one of them became trapped Thursday within an old railroad bridge spanning a river in northern Warren County.
Freeing the 20-year-old victim required a lengthy rescue, with specialists brought in from the Hunterdon County Technical Rescue Task Force. Responders had to follow the woman down a manhole from atop the Paulinskill Viaduct that spans the Paulinskill River near Station Road in Knowlton Township.
State police spokesman Sgt. First Class Gregory Williams identified the injured woman as Julia Lasko, of Mendham, New Jersey. She was taken by ambulance to Morristown Medical Center for treatment of a minor ankle injury, he said. The victim had a possible broken ankle and was taken for treatment to Morristown Medical Center, New Jersey State Police said.
It was not immediately clear how Lasko ended up down the manhole. A Facebook page dedicated to the span, sometimes called the Hainesburg Viaduct after the section of Knowlton where it's located, and weirdnj.com indicate the structure is a popular destination for adventure-seekers to explore.
"My understanding is it's a local hangout, according to Weird New Jersey," said Bucky Buchanan, deputy chief of the Clinton First Aid and Rescue Squad. Weird N.J.'s online profile of the viaduct notes it is illegal to trespass onto the structure. Buchanan responded with the Hunterdon County task force, which comprises his squad and the Flemington-Raritan and Whitehouse rescue squads. He said 22 task force members assisted local firefighters and state police at Hope in the effort.
Regardless of whether Lasko went down the manhole intentionally, it was the ankle injury that kept her from climbing out, said Tom Hoffman, deputy chief of the Flemington-Raritan squad. When the Hunterdon County task force arrived, firefighters from Knowlton and Blairstown townships had already located Lasko and made access down the manhole, Hoffman said. "They had gotten her part of the way out of where she was," Hoffman said. Lasko was on a portion of the viaduct visible from the exterior, he said. The task force rigged up a rope system from a bipod atop the viaduct, lowered a Stokes basket to where she was and sent two members down the manhole to package her up. Then with rescuers holding onto the ropes, the task force raised Lasko to safety over the railing that lines the viaduct, Hoffman said.
Popular or not, treading on the viaduct and within its structure is illegal, police said. Lasko was cited with criminal trespass, as was a companion, Madeline Smith, 19, also of Mendham, in Morris County, according to Williams. "It's state property," Williams said, adding that police were continuing to investigate what brought the woman to the viaduct. "I guess it's commonplace," the sergeant first class, based in West Trenton, New Jersey, said of trespassing there. "I'm not familiar with it."
Both Lasko and Smith were cited and released without bail on their own recognizance, pending an initial court appearance.
Kurt Bresswein may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @KurtBresswein. Find lehighvalleylive.com on Facebook.