ROCKLAND — For several minutes, at least, a life and death situation ensued within a section of water surrounded by ice on a pond in Warren. A side-by-side all-terrain vehicle had already sunk to the bottom of the 20-ft deep (average) Crawford Pond. One of its riders appeared likely to soon sink as well.
For that passenger, a golden light arose in the dark sky, Saturday night, Feb. 1, following the 9:45 p.m. call to Knox Regional Communications Center.
Or, rather, a golden badge.
A day later, the Knox County Sheriff’s Office commended Sgt. Arthur Smith for selflessly jumping in, putting himself in danger of both hypothermia and the risk of being dragged down by a person in a not-completely alert state of mind.
“I could foresee the individual going down and not coming back up,” said Smith, as to why he made the decision to fully submerge himself in the water, in the process making himself into a third person in need of rescue. The man had already gone down a couple of times by then.
“I was able to get a hold of him, get him to the edge of the ice,” he said. “I took my arms up underneath his arms so I’m under his back, and then held onto the ice. [I] kept him above the water myself for him to be able to breath and relax.”
As of Sunday afternoon, that person, the passenger on the ATV, Donald Holbrook, 28, of Warren, remains in critical condition at Maine Medical Center, in Portland, according to Knox County Sheriff Tim Carroll.
“Holbrook is upright and communicating with everybody, and it seems like he’s going to be OK,” said Carroll.
As one of the first responders on scene, Smith had arrived to the end of a one-lane, deadend dirt road ten minutes after neighbors alerted 911 dispatchers to cries for help coming from the frozen pond. Smith grabbed the tow rope he always keeps in his cruiser, found two men in the water approximately 100 yards from shore, and directed them to harness the rope around themselves. That task proved difficult.
An EMT approached while Smith was sitting at the waters’ edge and tried to assist in wrapping another rope around the distressed individual’s arms.
Smith jumped in, wearing his patrol uniform, minus the duty belt and ballistics vest for weight purposes. He said, a day later, that he had no recollection of any sensation of the water, or any of the events during the time he was submerged – a time span that Smith estimated to be approximately 10 to 15 minutes.
As others arrived, starting with shoreline residents, Sheriff’s Deputy Tim Davis, and then Warren Fire and Rescue, and Union Fire and Ambulance, they approached to approximately 10 - 15 feet away from the edge, holding on to the rescue line, “which was my lifeline,” according to Smith.
“I knew I had a rescue line there,” he said. “I knew I had other individuals on the ice who were holding on to the rescue line so I wasn’t completely unprotected. I had a hold on that line the whole, entire time.”
The Sheriff stated firm belief that Holbrook’s continuous recovery is due to Smith’s decision to enter the water.
“He (Smith) did an extraordinary job and it shows the dedication that he has – the dedication of all law enforcement – in the Knox County Sheriff’s Office,” said Carroll. “Very commendable, and I couldn’t be more proud. As a sheriff of the agency to have people like this willing to literally risk their lives to save others.”
The driver, Craig Dennison, 38, of Warren, was more mobile than Holbrook, and therefore able to move around in the ice water. Dennison has since returned home from Pen Bay Medical Center.
After getting out of the water, Smith changed his clothes, went home for a warm shower, and went to the emergency room to be checked out.
Carroll added that all of the responders who came to help, as well as the Good Samaritans, were just as important to the outcome.
In fact, Smith’s knowledge of water rescue didn’t come from law enforcement drills – rather from his training as a basic EMT and his participation within the Rockport Fire Department.
“A multitude of things go through the mind,” said Smith. “Two major factors that stuck out in my mind were: I didn’t want this individual to die while I’m standing there; and, if this is God’s will, I want the family to have a body for their closure.”
Until now, though, Smith has never had to put that training to the test.
When asked if he thought twice about going in, Smith said: “No. It never crossed my mind. I just went in.”
The Maine Warden Service continues to investigate the cause of the accident.
Sgt. Aaron Cross and his team have learned that the two had been fishing during the day. Cross also acknowledged that fishing after dark is common since darkness falls early this time of year. However, the team will continue to gather the details that led up to the incident.
According to Seargent Cross, of the Warden Service, there are certain areas of the Maine watershed that are currently very dangerous given this year’s mild winter.
“In this particular situation, it looks to be an inland stream was one of the factors,” he said. “A lot of time, ice around the mouth of a stream or brook is typically is not as safe as out in the middle of a lake or some other areas.”
The Warden Service urges everyone to use caution. Double check areas that you potentially would think are safe this time of the winter.
Another occurrence this time of year is the formation of pressure ridges on bodies of water, which creates open water environments, according to Cross.
“We’ve had some reports in the last week or so of fairly significant pressure ridges on bodies of water that are opening up,” he said. “Sometimes there’s not a lot of warning if you are operating a snowmobile or ATV.”
Along with the investigation, efforts are in place to recover the ATV. Guidelines are in place that require the machine to be recovered within a certain time frame, according to Cross.
Hypothermia, according to Union Asst. Fire Chief Jesse Thompson:
Hypothermia is very dangerous, once the internal temperature or core temp drops below 95 degrees the person is considered hypothermic. Mild hypothermia is considered any temperature greater than 90 degrees and the signs are: Lethargy, shivering, lack of coordination, pale cold skin, and an increase in heart rate blood pressure and respiratory rates. While severe hypothermia is any core temp less than 90 degrees, at this point the victim is no longer shivering, there are heart rhythm problems, loss of voluntary muscles, low blood pressure, undetectable pulse or respirations and possible cardiac arrest if hypothermia is not stopped. For the incident that happened hypothermia started to set in right away after they went into the water.