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Deputy rescues elderly woman from river

by CAROLINE LOBSINGER
Staff Writer | March 21, 2023 1:00 AM

An elderly woman was rescued from the Pend Oreille River after her vehicle ended up in the water near the Oldtown boat launch early Saturday morning.

The Bonner County Sheriff's Office was notified that a vehicle was in the river at 7:51 a.m. Saturday morning. The first crews were on the scene shortly after 8 a.m. and noticed the white sedan partially submerged about 20 to 30 feet offshore, Capt. Tim Hemphill, BCSO public information officer, said.

Deputy Cleby Santos removed his tactical gear and quickly waded out to the vehicle, with the water coming first to his waist and then to about mid-chest, according to a video shared by the sheriff's office.

The video, which shows a portion of the rescue, was likely recorded by one of the responded dashboard cameras, Hemphill said.

In the video, Santos is seen carefully making his way to the partially submerged sedan, Peering into the car, and seeing the 88-year-old woman in the driver's seat, he can be seen sharply banging on the window with the palm of his hand.

"Hey!" Santos yells and bangs on the window. "Hey! We got somebody in here. Hey! Come on, man!"

The deputy then is able to pry the door open and pull the woman to safety. The video cuts off as Santos grabs hold of the woman to get her to safety.

"Deputy Santos quickly removed the elderly woman from the vehicle and pulled her to shore," Bonner County Sheriff Daryl Wheeler said in announcing the rescue in a press release posted to the sheriff's office Facebook page. "Emergency personnel from the West Pend Oreille Fire District & Bonner County EMS … treated the woman and transported her to an area hospital for treatment."

Thankfully, because the water is relatively low on this side of the Albeni Falls Dam and the current was relatively calm, Hemphill said Santos was able to maneuver the door open to quickly get the woman out of the car and to safety.

While the deputies don't specifically train for water rescues, Hemphill said the department is pretty aware of the various conditions that come with the seasons and how to respond in those instances.

The water temperature was estimated to be about 35 degrees Saturday morning and BCSO officials noted that hypothermia can happen within minutes during a cold-water exposure. Physical incapacitation can begin within just seconds depending on the water's temperature, making self-rescue nearly impossible, Wheeler said.

Hemphill said Santos, who has worked in law enforcement for six years, has been with BCSO for about a year and a half. He praised the deputy for his actions and said he exemplifies how any of the patrol deputies respond to emergencies, by jumping in to help those in need.

Santos' actions also were praised by Wheeler, who said the community can be proud of the deputy and the others who serve the area.

"Deputy Santos' lifesaving efforts this past weekend are just one example of the great work your patrol deputies do each and every day to provide the best public safety services to our citizens," Wheeler said.

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