Every second counts: An officer’s race to rescue drowning girl

“It was clear the good lord was looking out for everyone”


AMES, Iowa — It was 04:00, only an hour into his shift, when the call came over the radio.

There was an accident — a car had gone off the road — and it was only a block away.

Officer John Barney, who was parked behind a stadium as his computer was booting up, headed to the scene, where he quickly noticed the debris on the road and saw several people leaning over an embankment.

As Barney approached, he could see what they were all watching, horrified. A car, upside down in a creek, and a 16-year-old girl’s voice screaming from inside.

As Barney crept down the embankment toward the car, he could hear the girl thumping against her door.

“I took my duty belt off, I got my back-up gun off — I didn’t know how deep the water would be so I didn’t want the extra weight,” Barney recalled.

She Couldn't Move
He grabbed his baton and began hitting the glass until it finally gave in. He reached into the driver’s seat to pull the girl out, but she couldn’t move.

“That was a critical moment. I was thinking, ‘If she doesn’t get air right now, there’s a possibility I’m not succeeding here,’” Barney said.

Time was running out. The girl, Elizabeth Funk, was no longer screaming. Her head was now underwater.

Barney felt for her seat belt and knew once he felt the tension on the strap that that was most likely what was stopping him. He reached for a pocket knife, and then felt for the strap again.

“I was lucky enough to find it that second time and get a knife on it,” he said.   

A mere 4 four minutes after he arrived on the scene, Barney pulled Funk from her vehicle to safety.

Shaken, she took a few moments to come to before standing on her own and walking with the officer out of the creek.  By that time, fire and EMS crews were there to help.

Barney, a four-year veteran — three years with the Ames Police Department — was later invited by the teenager's family to visit them and recount last month's rescue, so they could thank him in person.  

 “I’m just glad it turned out well,” said a humble Barney, “It was clear the good lord was looking out for everyone.”

About the author

As the Associated Editor for PoliceOne, Loraine Burger writes and edits news articles, product articles, columns, and case studies about public safety, community relations, and law enforcement. Loraine has developed relationships with law enforcement officers nationwide at agencies large and small to better understand the issues affecting police, whether on the street, at the office or at home.

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