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Quick action saves boy from drowning

July 13, 2011
Quick action by a Crawford County resident saved the life of a 3-year-old boy at Patoka Lake on Saturday, July 2.

Samantha Johnson, 23, of English, was swimming with her 12-year-old sister, Stephanie, at the Patoka Lake beach at about 8 p.m. while waiting for the fireworks display to begin.

"I was just swimming with my little sister at the beach and she pointed out that "that little boy can sure hold his breath a long time," Johnson said. "He was floating face down, so I went over and tapped him to see if he was all right and, when I turned him over, he started sinking. I grabbed him and carried him to the beach."

As Johnson carried him out of the water, she saw that his lips had already turned blue.

"When I got to the beach, I laid him down and started CPR on him," she said. "I was scared, but I knew what to do. I took a CPR course about three years ago, and, back then, I thought it was probably just a waste of time. I never dreamed that I'd ever actually use it."

The company that was handling the fireworks show had contacted the English Volunteer Fire Department and asked them to be on hand for the event.

"We actually had two crews on hand," Mike Benham, EVFD assistant fire chief, said. "We had a crew at the site where they were setting off the fireworks and another crew at the beach where the spectators were, in case some fireworks went astray. Rocky Gray and Jim Jones, who are both EMTs with the fire department, took a spare ambulance to the beach and were on standby in the parking area. We hadn't been there long — had just settled in — when, a little after 8 p.m., a group of people came running, yelling and screaming to us that a child had possibly drowned down at the beach. We had our six-wheeler ATV there, and it was already loaded with medical gear, so we took it down to the beach. Samantha was working on the boy with chest compressions, and, by that time, he was blue from head to toe. It was a sad sight. She told us that she saw him in the water and that he wasn't acting right. ... "

Indiana Conservation Officer Terry Allen was in a boat just yards from the beach when the chain of events began to unfold.

"We were on the scene within a minute," Allen said. "The boy had been floating face down, like what is called a 'dead-man' float, but was lower in the water. And once the air went out of his lungs, he probably passed out. It was lucky that everyone was there, like Rocky Gray, who had the training to handle the situation."

Gray and Jones took over for Johnson as soon as they arrived at the beach.

"We immediately called for a (medical) helicopter," Benham said. "We had to make that decision because of the huge amount of people at the event and the traffic on the roads in the park was so heavy."

They loaded the boy on the ATV and took him to the ambulance in the parking lot.

"He started coming around a little by then," Benham said. "And he started screaming. We got him in the ambulance and took him to where the helicopter landed and sent him to Kosair Children's Hospital in Louisville."

The boy, who is from Louisville and was visiting the beach with his aunt and some other children, was kept overnight at the hospital and was released the following day.

"They said that he's fine now," Benham said. "I heard he was bouncing off the walls at the hospital, so he's OK. But he's a lucky little boy. If it hadn't been for Samantha's action, it would have been all over. It would have been a bad day for us all. I was really afraid he had been in the water too long. But there was a good outcome. I'm really pleased with everyone involved and the quick response. And Rocky Gray and Jim Jones, I just can't praise them enough."

Johnson works for the CARES after-school program at Leavenworth Elementary School.

"I didn't get a chance to talk to the boy's family," she said. "But maybe I will sometime."

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