The efforts of three Portage Police officers, aided by a Wisconsin State Trooper and a Good Samaritan, were recognized for earlier this month saving the life of a woman who jumped into the Wisconsin River and was swept away in the post-flood current.
Portage Police Chief Ken Manthey presented lifesaver awards to the four officers Thursday during a Portage Common Council meeting. The presentation followed another set of lifesaver awards presented in which the same woman was pulled from the river April 28.
At about 8:12 p.m. May 11 the Portage Police Department responded to a call about a 25-year-old woman in the river making statements about hurting herself. The officers arrived at the river near the boat landing at West Conant and West Pleasant streets.
Officers Bill Charlebois, Dennis Pomeroy and Sgt. Brian Fehd grabbed Res-Q disks, a floatation device that can be thrown like a Frisbee with a rope attached. The woman grabbed on, but let go and floated down the river.
The officers attempted to catch the woman downriver near Pauquette Park, where they were joined by Wisconsin State Trooper Joshua Troth.
In the packed Council Chamber, Manthey played video taken from Charlebois’ body camera. The shadowy video showed him go into the water after dropping his belt and extra weight, as he tried to reach the woman as she clung to a branch hanging over the river.
“Initially he was driving down the road and we could hear some yelling in a wooded area towards the river,” Charleboise said as he described how he and Troth found the woman, “so it wasn’t so much that I saw, but that we heard and went toward the sound.”
“If he hadn’t have been screaming, I wouldn’t have found her,” Troth said.
“It was definitely the good Samaritan that was yelling,” Charlebois said, “and I think she was yelling too. But it was probably a combination of the two, that was what brought us to her.”
With the help of the unnamed Good Samaritan, Troth and Charlebois were able to get a rope to the woman and pull her out of the water. Once out of the water, Manthey explained, Troth found that she had a pulse, but wasn’t breathing, and so rolled her on her side and hit her on the back, causing her to throw up water and take in a breath.
“Going in there, you know there is the danger, but I pretty much had tunnel vision, I wasn’t so much thinking that, I was thinking that we need to get to her — she is hanging on for dear life,” Charlebois said.
Less than two weeks earlier, Charlebois had rescued the same woman from the same stretch of the river, but in that case, the Res-Q was right on target and he was able to haul the woman to shore with the help of Sgt. Michael Schutz and Columbia County Sheriff’s Deputy Michael Schultz, who were commended Thursday as well.
Since the rescue May 11, Charlebois and Troth have not seen the woman, who they said is likely still hospitalized for treatment at a mental health facility.
Both Charlebois and Troth reported a slight cough after they had been treated for hypothermia and Troth for “near drowning,” but minor enough they could not directly attribute it to the incident. Overall, they reported feeling well.
“Hopefully it won’t happen again,” Charlebois said.
“You and me both,” Troth added.
“It’s a scary river and I have a newfound respect for it,” Charleboise said. “Not that I didn’t before, but even more so now, knowing just how powerful it is.”