Brule man rescues group home residentWhen Billy Werner saw a man struggling in the water near Arrowhead Pier on Wednesday evening, he jumped right in after him.
By: Steve Kuchera, Superior Telegram
When Billy Werner saw a man struggling in the water near Arrowhead Pier on Wednesday evening, he jumped right in after him.
“It was the right thing to do,” Werner said Thursday, the day after he and others saved a group home resident who had jumped into the water after dropping his pack of cigarettes. The 45-year-old man was listed in fair condition Thursday at SMDC.
Werner was fishing from shore about 300 yards from the fishing pier at 4648 Belknap St. in Superior when the man jumped into the water. According to the police report, the man was on an evening outing with a group home escort when he dropped a pack of cigarettes into the water. His group home escort “tried to grab his arm, but he went over the edge of the dock,” the report said.
The report said the man lives at a group home operated by the Challenge Center. Center director Gene Chuzles, citing confidentially rules, said he couldn’t confirm that.
At first, others didn’t realize the man was in trouble.
“I thought he was drunk at first,” said Werner, 29, of Brule.
But there was something about the way the man moved and bobbed in the water.
“I thought he was being goofy,” Werner said. “But when I got on the dock and realized he was in trouble, I jumped in after him.”
Like Werner, people on the dock didn’t immediately comprehend the situation.
“At first we thought he was messing around,” said Ashley Kinn, 24, of Superior, who followed Werner into the water to help the man. “Then I asked the lady (the group home escort) if he was drunk. Normal people wouldn’t jump into a lake for a pack of cigarettes. Then she told me he was mentally challenged.”
That’s when Werner went into the water, swam to the man, grabbed him in a rescue hold from behind and started swimming for the dock. Werner said he considers himself a good swimmer, but never had lifeguard training.
“Everything I know I learned from the military,” said Werner, a heavy-equipment operator with the National Guard’s 850th Horizontal Engineer Company based in Cambridge, Minn. “I figured it would look pretty crappy if a National Guard guy stood there and did nothing.”
Kinn, who also has not had lifeguard training, said she acted when it appeared Werner was tiring against the current with the man in tow.
“The current was pretty strong,” Kinn said.
Together, they towed the man to the dock, where Werner’s fishing companion, Shane Wagner, and Kinn’s boyfriend, Thomas Gheen, pulled the three from the water. The man’s escort began CPR. He was breathing but appeared unconscious when the first emergency personnel arrived on the scene. He was taken to SMDC by Gold Cross ambulance.
“If it wasn’t for him (Werner), we probably all would have sat there and watched somebody drown,” Kinn said. “He had a lot of guts to go in. There is no way I or anyone else out there could have done it. If I had gone out there alone, he probably would have ended up drowning me because I wouldn’t be able to hold his weight and mine.”