12/24/2003

Oregon Reserve Officer, Saves Teen, Drowns in Ocean Rescue Effort

Officer Down: Russell Simpson - [Bandon, Oregon]

Russell Simpson, a reserve officer, was pulled into the ocean trying to save Zeb Leaf, 13, who survived

STEPHEN BEAVE, Oregon Live

A part-time member of Bandon's police and fire departments drowned Monday morning as he tried to rescue a 13-year-old boy who chased his dog into the ocean.

Russell Simpson, 51, a reserve police officer and volunteer firefighter, was pulled into the choppy water as he held a rope securing Bandon Police Chief Bob McBride, McBride said.

"Besides losing a friend, this guy was really a hero," McBride said Monday evening. "I just wrote a memo the other day to put in his file about what a great guy he was because he had so much compassion."

The boy was later rescued by the U.S. Coast Guard.

According to McBride and the Coast Guard, 13-year-old Zeb Leaf from Washington state was visiting Bandon for the holidays with his parents and their dog. He was walking on the beach with the dog shortly before 9:45 a.m. when the dog ran into the water south of a jetty at Southwest Sixth Street.

Zeb started into the water after the dog and a wave swept them both deeper into the water, McBride said.

Simpson, who also worked for the city of Bandon as a code compliance officer, was riding with McBride when they heard the rescue call go out.

They went to the beach, and McBride put on a wet suit and got into the water. Simpson and Zeb's father held the rope.

The surf was so rough, it pulled Simpson and Zeb's father into the water. The boy's father made it back to shore.

"Russell was swept off his feet," McBride said. "Russ went down and didn't come up."

Simpson's body was pulled to the shore by two other rescuers.

He was pronounced dead at Southern Coos General Hospital in Bandon.

A Coast Guard helicopter from North Bend spotted Zeb about 100 yards from the beach, said Coast Guard Petty Officer Kurt Fredrickson, and lowered a basket to him.

The boy climbed into the basket without help and was taken to the Bandon airport, where an ambulance picked him up and took him to Southern Coos General Hospital. He was treated for mild hypothermia.

Another firefighter, Roger Cram, also was thrown into the surf during the rescue. McBride and Cram were treated for mild hypothermia at the hospital and released, McBride said.

"Luckily, I had a rope tied to me," McBride said. "Or you couldn't be talking to me."

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