A 15-year-old boy who slipped and fell into the Kenosha Harbor Wednesday was rescued by Kenosha police officers using flotation bags from their squad cars, keeping him afloat until firefighters in water gear could pull him from the water.
Before he fell, the boy and a friend were standing on large dredging pipes that are floating along the harbor wall. The pipes are there as part of a dredging project taking place in the harbor under the direction of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Police said the boy fell between pipes into the water.
According to Kenosha police, five officers — Kyle Morrissey, Pep Moretti and Brittni Bray, Anthony Barriere and Brittany Meronek — responded to the 911 call and used the throw bags to reach the teen. They used the ropes attached to the bags to pull the boy to an area where one of the officers could reach in and hold him above the water. Firefighters in scuba gear then pulled the boy from the lake within minutes of arriving.
The boy was treated by paramedics at the scene and then released, police said Wednesday.
“The officers did a fantastic job using the throw bags we have in the squads,” Police Department spokesman Lt. Joseph Nosalik said.
Those bags are a legacy of a teen who never made it out of the water.
In September 2018, 17-year-old Donovan Anderson, an Indian Trail High School student, was with a group of friends diving from the eastern end of the north pier.
Witnesses said Anderson dove in once, swam back to a ladder and climbed out. Joined by a friend, he jumped in again. His friend made it back to the ladder, but Anderson was swept down by the current, surfacing some 40 feet away.
His friends and witnesses along the lakefront saw he was in trouble and called 911.
One of those watching helplessly was Marlene Tare, who was visiting Kenosha from the Chicago area.
“I watched the young policeman who ran down that pier,” Tare said. “You can tell this is still in my memory as fresh as if it happened yesterday. He sprinted down there and there was nothing he could do. All he could do was stand there and point.”
Anderson drowned. His body was not found for a week, washing ashore three miles north near Carthage College.
His death was one of four drownings on Kenosha’s lakefront that summer, with three people, including Anderson, dying in areas known for strong rip currents.
At the time, there were no life rings installed on the pier and Kenosha Police did not carry flotation bags.
“If they had life safety measures (at the pier) could he have survived?” Tare wondered. “He may have been able to survive if there were life rings on the pier because his friends would have been able to throw them.”
Anderson’s death prompted a push for safety equipment on the pier and near the mouth of Pike River, where there have been many drownings in the past.
Although she did not know Anderson, Tare was haunted by witnessing his drowning and felt she needed to help prevent a similar tragedy. Tare did research on water safety equipment and suggested equipping Kenosha squads with the throw bags. She bought one to bring to a City Council committee meeting in the weeks after Donovan drowned, and offered to donate $1,000 toward their purchase.
Ultimately, the Police Department turned down her offer and purchased the equipment without the donation. But she was credited by aldermen for creating the push to equip the squads.
“This is the lady who, if she didn’t start the ball rolling, she pushed it down the hill,” said Alderman Rocco LaMacchia Sr., introducing Tare at a meeting on the lakefront safety equipment in 2018.
After the outcry from the public following Anderson’s death, kiosks with life rings were added along the pier, at the harbor, and near the Pike River outlet.
And in November 2018, Kenosha Police squad cars were equipped with the flotation throw bags officers used to save the 15-year-old Wednesday.
Officer Tyler Cochran, the department’s safety officer, works on water safety programs for children in the Kenosha Unified School District and is on a water safety committee that works to improve safety on the lakefront. He said work continues to improve safety, including plans to add new signs with safety instructions on handling rip currents.
While the department doesn’t keep data on use of the bags, Cochran said he believes Wednesday’s rescue was the first time they were used in a rescue.
Ironically, Tare had contacted the Kenosha News earlier in the day Wednesday to check on whether the bags had been helpful.
Reached Thursday afternoon, Tare said she was thrilled to learn the bags had been used to save the teen’s life. She said she remains deeply affected by Anderson’s death. “I have Donovan’s picture in my phone, so I keep him close to me. He means something to me,” she said.
“Our goal was to make sure that didn’t happen again,” Tare said. “I’m very happy for that boy and that boy’s family. God knows if they didn’t have the throw bags what would have happened.”
Reporter Terry Flores contributed to this report.