VERMILION — Heather Schutes, 14, was feeling pretty good about herself around 9:30 p.m. Tuesday.
“I never saved someone in my whole life,” Heather said, smiling and crying a bit as she stood on a lakeside cliff at Vermilion’s Showse Park.
Heather’s elation came after the unsettling event that she and her boyfriend, Ray Agront, 16, experienced about an hour beforehand when Ray’s cousin, John Hammock, 17, nearly drowned at the park.
The trio was swimming 150 to 200 yards offshore at the park before 9 p.m. Tuesday when John started to struggle, said Vermilion police Officer David Jones.
“He choked on some water and went under a few times,” Jones said. “It’s just good that everybody got out OK.”
Heather said she and Ray were swimming back to shore when they looked back and saw John going under.
Ray said he turned back and swam to his cousin while Heather went to shore to retrieve a flotation ring.
Lacey Kelley, 17, was on the beach when she heard the trio crying for help.
“We thought they were just kidding at first,” Lacey said. “But when I saw they weren’t kidding, I swam out with an (inner) tube and gave it to her.”
Heather was halfway between John and the shore when Lacey gave her the inner tube, and she estimated it was about five minutes before she was able to swim back to Ray and John.
In those short five minutes, John went under three times in water about 12 to 15 feet deep, but was pulled up each time.
“I was out of breath, I was scared and my muscles were tensing up,” John said. “I was really scared.”
Ray said John was struggling ferociously.
“He was sort of pulling me down with him,” Ray said. “He was almost drowning me, too.”
Vermilion police and LifeCare paramedics arrived at the park minutes later after receiving calls from Lacey’s boyfriend. The paramedics treated John on scene, and he was released to his mother, Nancy Horvath, who arrived shortly after 9 p.m.
“I thought he was dead when I got the call from the police station,” Horvath said, crying and hugging her son and Ray, her nephew. “I was so scared. I just love Ray. I just want to hug him.”
Contact Shawn Foucher at 329-7197 or firstname.lastname@example.org.