Elderly Santa Anita Park employee saves girl's life

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A 90-year-old race track worker at Santa Anita Park put his own body on the line and pushed a 6-year-old girl out of the path of a runaway horse. KPCC's Alex Cohen spoke with Los Angeles Times sports columnist Bill Plaschke, who wrote about this heroic story.

John Shear has worked as a paddock guard at Santa Anita Park for five decades. His job is to keep the horses away from the race track crowd.

But Shear's devotion to his job has probably never been tested as much as it was on March 12. On that day, a father brought his two children to the racetrack so they could see the jockeys up close. The man's 6-year-old daughter was worried that she was small for her age, so the father pointed to the jockeys as an example of people who are short but still successful.

While the man and his children were looking at the jockeys, a runaway horse started heading toward an opening in the fence where the family was standing. The crowd began to scatter but, in the commotion, the father lost his grip on his daugther's hand. That's when Shear came into the picture.

“He was guarding the rope at that point, saw the horse running toward the rope, and he looked and he saw the little girl standing by herself," said Plaschke. "So he turns and jumps onto the girl and throws her, pushes her out of the way of the horse and, as he did, the horse trampled him.”

Shear suffered multiple fractures of his pelvis and was left with gashes on his arm, face and wrist. Plaschke says he'll probably be hospitalized for a couple months and will have to re-learn to walk.

The LA Times columnist spoke with Shear and asked him why he put his life on the line.

"He says, 'Look, I’m 90-years-old, she’s 6'," recounted Plaschke. "'She's a little girl, she has the rest of her life ahead of her, I’ve pretty much lived out my life. This is just something a man does.’"