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Bobby Buntrock From Hazel Tragically Died at 21

Bobby Buntrock, most known for playing the role of Harold Sport Baxter on the popular American sitcom Hazel, tragically killed at the young age of 21, in 1974. Buntrock was a child actor who appeared in a multitude of television shows, from comedies to westerns.

Buntrock’s tragic death was a heartbreaking incident for everyone who knew and loved him. Even those that watched him on television from the comfort of their own homes affected by his untimely demise. The cause of his death is even more unnerving than it first appears, as the roots of its cause stem back two years before his death, in a disaster that Buntrock had no sway over.

Stay with us as we take a look at the life of the child actor and the cause of his tragic death that struck the hearts of so many around the world.

A child star

Bobby Buntrock was born in Denver, Colorado, to Robert and Maxine Buntrock. He had a younger sister, Stella. At three years old, the family moved to Whittier, California. It was the family’s neighbors that urged Buntrock’s parents to get their son into acting. They saw the young Buntrock as a cute and charismatic little lad, who’d be perfect for television. Their neighbors even sent a photographer to have Buntrock’s picture taken so they could send it to an agent.

After much convincing, Buntrock’s parents eventually agreed and sent the photo to Marcella Bell. The agent auditioned Buntrock and signed him on the spot. Shortly after signing with Bell, Buntrock landed his first role on an episode of Wagon Train in 1959. And it is alongside the iconic Bette Davis.

Davis was famous for her performances in a range of film genres, from contemporary crime melodramas to historical films, suspense horror, and occasional comedies, although her greater successes were in romantic dramas. She was also a recipient of two Academy Awards, and was the first thespian to accrue ten nominations. In the Wagon Train, season two episode, The Ella Lindstrom Story, Buntrock played Bo Lindstom, one of Ella’s children. Buntrock was four years old.

The following year, Buntrock appeared in an episode of Westinghouse Desilu Playhouse and landed bit roles in two of the biggest hit comedies on American television, The Donna Reed Show and Mr. Ed, in 1961.

He then cast in the TV show, Hazel. This made him a familiar face on television. The days on set were long for the young actor and required that he had a tutor on set. His sister followed in his footsteps and also took her own shot at acting as a child. She appeared in several television commercials. Hazel ended its run in 1966 with it’s fifth and final season.

Buntrock also made three appearances on the western TV show, The Virginian, acting alongside Albert Salmi. In 1967, after Buntrock’s third appearance on The Virginian, he retired in order to live a more normal life. Sometime after his retirement from acting, the family moved to South Dakota. In 1970, Bobby Buntrock joined the National Guard.

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Buntrock’s claim to fame through Hazel

Hazel is an American sitcom that follows a spunky live-in maid named Hazel Burke, played by Oscar-winner Shirley Booth, and her employers, the Baxter family. Hazel ran for five seasons, with 154 episodes aired in prime time. The show first aired on September 28th, 1961 and ran until April 11th, 1966. It was based on the single-panel comic strip of the same name by cartoonist Ted Key. And which appeared in The Saturday Evening Post.

Bobby Buntrock played the role of Harold Sport Baxter. Don DeFore and Whitney Blake played the roles of Harold’s parents, George and Dorothy Baxter. In the fifth and final season of Hazel, which aired between 1965 and 1966, the series retooled after DeFore and Blake dismissed and Harold lived with his Uncle Steve Baxter played by Ray Fulmer, Aunt Barbara played by Lynn Borden, and cousin Susie played by Julia Benjamin. The show about the busybody maid, became a huge hit with viewers.

Buntrock’s tragic death

On the evening of April 7th, 1974, Bobby Buntrock, at twenty one years of age, was driving to visit a friend of his. He had to drive over what’s been described as a Y-shaped bridge. Unknown to him that the bridge had been severely damaged by the Black Hills Flood of 1972. The bridge had been under construction for two years, ever since the flood. But there were simply no safety barriers, signs, or anything to alert drivers to the fact that between the two lanes of the bridge there was a gaping hole large enough for someone to drive a full-size car into.

The Black Hills Flood of 1972, is also known as the Rapid City Flood. And the most detrimental flood in South Dakota history. In fact, it was one of the deadliest floods in the history of the United States. The flood took place from June 9th to June 10th, in the Black Hills of Western South Dakota. It was 15 inches of rain in a small area over the Black Hills that caused Rapid Creek and other waterways to overflow.

There was severe flooding to residential and commercial properties in Rapid City when the Canyon Lake Dam became clogged with debris. This caused it to fail in the late evening hours of June 9th resulting in 238 deaths, five missing persons and 3,057 injuries. 14 of the deaths trained professionals. Over 1,335 homes and 5,000 automobiles destroyed in the disaster.

No one could have expected that this flood would be the cause of another tragic death, two years later.

Buntrock was the unlucky driver who attempted to travel over the severely damaged bridge in Keystone, South Dakota, completely unaware of the danger he was in. The large hole in the middle of the bridge had at least 10 to 15 feet of water in it from the creek. Buntrock’s car slid off the side of the road and flipped over into the water.

The accident quickly reported but the rescue crews didn’t arrive in time. The divers that arrived at the scene eventually reached the car and discovered Buntrock’s body. Bobby Buntrock had tried to escape. But he had been unable to pry the door open far enough due to the mud and the sheer force of the water. Other reports claim that the sides of the hole blocked him from getting the car door open more than 4 inches or so. Either way, he was unable to escape the submerged vehicle.

Buntrock’s former co-star, Shirley Booth, who played Hazel, was distraught when she heard the tragic news. She and Buntrock had grown close over the course of the show and she left heartbroken by the incident. Bobby Buntrock buried in Mountain View Cemetery in South Dakota. The cemetery is known as the only one in the world with a view of Mount Rushmore.

Be prepared for such a scenario

If you find yourself in a car accident, specifically landing in water, here are a few things to remember. First and foremost, don’t undo your seatbelt before you hit the water. If you are travelling at speed, the water is more like a wall than a cushion. There will be a significant impact when your car hits the water, so be prepared.

However, do try to open your windows as soon as possible, as this is your best chance for a safe escape. The pressure of the water will make it almost impossible to open your doors. You will have a couple of minutes before the power window controls fail. So do your best to get the windows open. If you are able to get a window partially open, you should be able to force it down manually by leveraging your weight against the top rim. At the same time, make sure to release automatic door locks, as you may have to open the doors later.

Once you get the windows open, undo your seatbelt and have your passengers do the same. Then exit through the windows. In some cars, the rear windows may not go down all the way. Passengers may have to exit through the front windows as well. If you can’t get the windows down in time, do your best not to panic. You can still exit the car safely. First, try to break the windows, although this may be too difficult. This is a good reason to always have a tool in the car that can be used to break any of the car windows during an emergency.

If this doesn’t work, you will have to wait until the car has mostly filled with water, so this option is obviously much more nerve-wracking. You will need to allow the car to fill with water to approximately neck height, so that the pressure on the outside and inside of the doors equalizes. You should then be able to open the door. Air will be trapped near the car’s ceiling, so keep your head and the heads of your passengers up near the roof.

Once the car has filled sufficiently, tell everyone to take a deep breath in. Open as many doors as necessary and swim to the surface, breathing out as you do so. If you exit from the same door as someone else, link arms with them so you can make sure you both get to the surface safely.

What did you find most shocking about Bobby Buntrock’s tragic death, that it was caused by a flood two years previous, or that there were simply no safety regulations around the severely damaged bridge?

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