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Cops, EMT rescue pregnant woman from frigid river

The responders and the woman were taken to a hospital and treated for hypothermia; the woman later delivered her son via cesarean section


By Robert Allen
Detroit Free Press

DETROIT — Desperately hanging onto a coat with her teeth to stay afloat in the frigid Detroit River, a pregnant woman struggled to keep the current from sweeping her away Monday night after having second thoughts about ending her life.

The coat was extended to her from atop a seawall in a frenzied attempt to save her. Fast-acting police, an emergency medic and a mail boat crew managed to rescue the woman, about 20 years old, who later received an emergency C-section at a nearby hospital, according to Detroit Police Department.

Detroit Police Chief James Craig, center, speaks about Detroit police officers Brian Gadwell, right, and Steven Rauser during a news conference. (Elisha Anderson/Detroit Free Press via AP)
Detroit Police Chief James Craig, center, speaks about Detroit police officers Brian Gadwell, right, and Steven Rauser during a news conference. (Elisha Anderson/Detroit Free Press via AP)

Officers Brian Gadwell and Steven Rauser arrived shortly before 11 p.m. to the scene at Riverside Park near the Ambassador Bridge. They found a man lying on the wall, about 5-7 feet above the water's surface, reaching out with the coat and a tree branch to help keep the woman from being pulled under.

"I jumped in," Gadwell said at a news conference Tuesday. "I wrapped my legs around her, and I was able to grab, like a rebar or rod, that was sticking out the wall."

Soon, his hands started losing their grip. The National Weather Service reports the river's temperature was about 49 degrees, plenty cold to give everyone hypothermia. The woman told the rescuer she loved him, and he said the same to her.

"I thought I was going to die," Gadwell said. "I told them, 'You better do something. I can't hang on.'"

Rauser jumped in to help. Rauser said he wanted to pull them out of the water, but the wall was too high. So he went into the water, grabbing onto a steel hook in the wall, and held the woman until more help arrived.

"She was definitely fighting for her life, she was scared," Rauser said, adding that he "had no idea" the woman was pregnant.

Ryan Gazdecki, senior captain of the J.W. Wescott mail boat docked next to the park, had just been finishing work that night when he and partner Joseph Buchanan saw the fire trucks and police cars

"We just kind of ran down there to see what was going on," Gazdecki said, adding that they soon learned the situation. "My partner and I sprinted back up to the dock where the boat was."

A Hart EMS emergency medical technician, who's a certified dive rescuer, had jumped into the water to help. The captain untied the boat and approached from downstream as the woman and EMT held onto a chain, against the current, Gazdecki said. They helped both of them into the boat and were back on shore within 15 minutes.

"It was pretty difficult to get the boat situated — the current is extra strong with all the rain we've had," he said.

Chris Ward, the EMT, gave this account of the scene: "A crew member from Detroit Fire had hold of the victim's arm and I had her leg. We knew we had to get the buoy that we got from the mail boat around her somehow and the only way that seemed possible was from the water — physically putting it on her as she was panicking.

"I jumped in with a lifeline tied around me and was able to get her head and her arm through the buoy. At that time the boat crew pulled us over to the boat and they were able lift us both out of the water."

Ward, Gadwell, Rauser and the woman all were taken to Detroit Receiving Hospital and treated for hypothermia. The officers said that as far as they know, the baby is OK.

Police later determined that the woman was attempting suicide. Police Chief James Craig said he's asking the officers' commander to nominate Gadwell and Rauser for lifesaving medals.

After the intense rescue, a moment of levity: "I get in the EMS rig and I'm shaking, they're like ripping all my clothes off," Gadwell said, and they saw the nail polish his daughters, 7 and 10, painted on his toenails.

"I'm like, this is what happens when you have daughters at home. I get to the hospital, everybody's making fun of me. ... They're laughing at me, they go, 'Hey, just so you know, your partner's toenails are done, too.'"

Rauser, who has an 8-year-old daughter, admitted his toenails also had been painted.

Adam Gottlieb, owner of Hart EMS, said he's "very proud" of his crew's involvement with the rescue and medical transport.

"It's very, very unusual for us to do a water rescue like that," Gottlieb said. "It was a big collaborative effort for everybody that was there."

Copyright 2017 Detroit Free Press

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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