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Bowling alley hero spares toddler trapped in pin machine

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A quick-thinking bowling alley employee is credited for saving a toddler from what could have been a serious injury after pulling him from a machine that resets bowling pins.

The Eau Claire Leader Telegram reports that the incident happened Sunday evening at Wagner’s Lanes in Eau Claire when a boy wandered down a lane toward the pins. He passed a laser that triggered a reset mechanism that assumed a bowling ball, not a toddler, had just passed. A mechanized arm dropped and pulled the boy and the downed pins into a pit behind the lane. At the same time, a pin setter descended from above to collect pins still standing.

“Everyone had stopped bowling,” said eyewitness Neil Haas, who was bowling nearby. “We saw this little guy on his hands and knees near the pin area...then the little kid was dragged into the pit, and we were watching the pin setter come down.”

Onlookers watched in fear as the mechanized arm swept the downed pins and the boy into the pit.

“Everyone was gasping. This kid was in really serious trouble,” Haas said.

That's when Andy Gardner, 23, a UW-Eau Claire student who works at the bowling alley, spotted the child and sprinted to him. WEAU said that Gardner was able to maneuver around the machinery above the lane to turn it off.

“He got down there fast,” Haas said. “He didn’t think twice about anything. He just reacted.”

Gardner, who is 5 feet 7 inches and weighs 140 pounds, thinks his size allowed him to squeeze into the narrow space to reach the boy. He scooped up the child, who was crying but unharmed, and returned him to his parents. He never learned any of their names.

“They did say, ‘Thank you. We’re sorry about that,’ ” Gardner said.

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