WOONSOCKET – The father of an award-winning cheerleader says his son's training may be the only reason he's still alive after falling four stories from the studio where he teaches Thursday.
Dylan Smith, 19, told his father he instinctively did a backflip in mid-air, which enabled him to land on his feet behind the old Harris Mill on Main Street.
“He's alive and it's basically a miracle,” said Hugh Smith of North Smithfield. “He should be dead. It's a 44-foot drop.”
Smith's most serious injuries include a fractured pelvis, dislocated hip, a ruptured spleen and punctured lungs. He's listed in critical condition at Rhode Island Hospital, but family members are hopeful he'll make a full recovery.
Witnesses told police Smith was demonstrating a tumbling maneuver at Superior Cheers about 4:40 p.m. when he landed against a door that swings open into nothing but air – even though it's four stories above the ground. The door may have once led to a fire escape that has been removed from the granite facade of the onetime factory building.
Detective Lt. Eugene Jalette said the door was closed, but the impact of Smith's body was apparently enough to force it open, allowing him to fall through.
“The door was closed,” said Jalette. “It was nailed shut, too.”
Smith landed on an expanse of weed-strewn, crumbling pavement near the Truman Bypass. Although he told police he didn't remember striking the ground, rescue workers said he was conscious and alert all the way to the hospital.
Smith's father said his son is in good spirits but he's still undergoing tests at the hospital and “he'll be here for a few days.”
The elder Smith said that his son told him that as soon as he realized he was airborne, his “muscle memory” kicked in and he maneuvered his body for a gymnastics-style landing. As far as he's concerned, his son's reflexes were “absolutely” the reason for his survival.
“There's no doubt about it,” he said. “He just looked for the ground and he kind of rotated slowly and he must have landed on his feet. If this had been any other kid he'd probably be dead.”
A 2010 graduate of LaSalle Academy, Smith became the first boy ever that year to earn All-State honors for competitive cheerleading since the Rhode Island Interscholastic League began recognizing the sport. He was captain of LaSalle's football team in 2010, as well as a member of the lacrosse team.
He got into cheerleading “as a goof” in high school and ended up being very good at it, his father said.
He finished his freshman year as a pre-med student this spring at the University of Kentucky, where he was also a member of the school's Wildcats cheerleaders “white squad” – the equivalent of the junior varsity team. Smith attends the university on a partial cheerleading scholarship and he had already been accepted as a member of the main cheerleading squad next year.
He was supposed to travel to Singapore today to take part in a nine-day cheerleading clinic sponsored by his alma mater.
Smith, whose facebook page says he lives in Providence and Kentucky, had been working as a tumbling instructor for Superior Cheers since the end of the school year about two months ago. Most of his students were girls between 10 and 12 years old, his father said.
“They're more shaken up than he was,” he said.
A repair crew was installing steel safety bars on the windows and securing the door that Smith fell through when a reporter visited Superior Cheers on Friday morning. The owner of the business wasn't there.
The owner, “Coach” Dawn Castonguay, did not return a message left on the company's answering machine.