Authorities detail rescue efforts for man who fell through iced-over pond
CHAMPAIGN — An autopsy is scheduled today for a Champaign man who died after being in the frigid waters of a retention pond for more than an hour Tuesday before rescuers could safely get him out.
The Champaign County Coroner's Office said Kenneth Brown Jr., 20, who listed an address in the 2000 block of Moreland Boulevard, Champaign, was pronounced dead at 1:08 a.m. Wednesday at Carle Foundation Hospital in Urbana.
He had been taken there shortly after 5 p.m. Tuesday after being rescued from a pond on the north side of Town Center Boulevard in front of Menards — the third time Tuesday that police had been called about him.
The Illinois State Water Survey reported the air temperature at 4 p.m. Tuesday was around 20 degrees.
Champaign police Lt. Bob Rea said officers were called to McAlister's Deli, 421 W. Town Center Blvd., just before 4 p.m. to remove a disorderly person. He was gone when police arrived.
Deputy Chief Joe Gallo said the earlier call came at 12:34 p.m. when Mr. Brown was apparently inside the business, where his girlfriend works, being "loud and disruptive." He was gone when police arrived then, too.
And about a half-hour before that, an officer stood by while Market Place Mall officials issued a ban notice to Mr. Brown after he was displaying "erratic behavior" in the center of the mall.
"He wasn't a threat to anyone. We had no crime. He wasn't arrested," said Gallo of the 11:56 a.m. call to the mall.
After leaving McAlister's just before 4 p.m., Mr. Brown headed across Town Center Boulevard to the north.
Gallo said there were several officers in the area because of an unrelated domestic-dispute call in the parking lot of Menards.
As Officers Tim Atteberry and Doug Kimme got out to walk toward Mr. Brown, he began jogging in the Menards parking lot, then ran directly onto the iced-over pond south of the store. The sergeant responding to the domestic dispute "sees Brown on the pond and can see it's partially frozen and can hear it cracking, so he's calling for the Champaign Fire Department before he even falls in," Gallo said. "Within seconds, he fell in."
Champaign Deputy Fire Chief Eric Mitchell said his department got the call at 3:53 p.m. that there was a man in the water.
The first firefighters arrived at 3:58 p.m. A total of 22 fire personnel and six vehicles turned out, he said.
"The way we're trained, you have several different positions that have to be filled to do water rescue safely," Mitchell said. "You have a leader and a victim observer (whose) job is to make contact visually with the victim and try to talk to him."
Gallo said before firefighters arrived, the officers were talking to him, trying to get him to get his body on the ice. An officer went in Menards to get rope, and by the time he emerged, firefighters were there.
Mitchell said Mr. Brown was still conscious.
"They could hear him yelling but couldn't understand much what he was saying," he said.
In addition to the team leader and the victim observer, there are others who provide shore support.
"They help the rescuers into dry suits. Everybody is tethered to a rope on the shore," Mitchell said, adding there is at least one shore-support person for each person in the water.
And for every two rescuers sent out, there are two more suited up standing by in case something happens to the first one out, Mitchell explained.
Because Mr. Brown went on the ice as he was avoiding contact with police, Atteberry also donned a dry suit.
"We had a police officer also suit up and go out there with our officers," Mitchell said. "The police wanted to be there. They were there on the call. We gave him a crash course and got him out on the ice," he explained, adding the first firefighter was in a dry suit at 3:59 p.m.
As the firefighters were suiting up and getting tethered, other team members threw out a rescue disc — "a Frisbee with a rope on it" — in hopes that Mr. Brown would grab on. He did not. As that was being tried, the rescue raft was being inflated, something that can't be done too fast or the raft will pop like a balloon.
As the firefighters were sliding the raft out to where Mr. Brown was, he went under the water at 4:11 p.m., Mitchell said.
"As our guys got out there, they took poles and were trying to feel for him. The water was a lot deeper than they'd been told," Mitchell said. "Originally, they were told it was waist deep and that he had been standing up. It was over 15 to 18 feet deep.
"When he went under, that's when they dispatched Cornbelt (Fire Protection District), which is the county dive team. Their chief was there at 4:21 p.m.," Mitchell said.
Lloyd Galey is a retired Champaign fire lieutenant who's now the chief for Cornbelt. Mitchell said Galey, who carries his equipment in his personal vehicle, used to conduct ice-rescue training sessions for Champaign firefighters.
"They ended up having to dive. (Mr. Brown) was out of the water and in the ambulance at 5:09 p.m.," Mitchell said.
Mitchell said one police officer and six different firefighters were in the water before the mission was complete.
Mitchell said after reviewing the reports and seeing a YouTube video of about 10 minutes of the rescue that was posted Wednesday, he feels like his colleagues did what they were supposed to do.
"They followed our ice-rescue guidelines pretty much to a T. It's a very low-frequency (event) but a very high-risk rescue," he said. "They did exactly what they were supposed to do. They established command ... they made visual contact and attempted to talk to him, threw rescue devices, and went on the water. Going on the water is the last thing you want to do. They did all the other things first."
Gallo said police officers were frustrated standing at the scene without the proper equipment to perform a rescue.
Both Gallo and Mitchell said the officers and firefighters could hear bystanders urging them to rush in to the water to get Mr. Brown.
"There's certain things we can control and certain things beyond our control," Gallo said. "We commonly run toward the sound of gunfire. But when there is thin ice and we're not able to do things safely, we call firefighters. I'm very proud of our officers. I think they performed well under challenging circumstances."
Mitchell echoed that charging into the water was not the correct response.
"That's not safe for anybody," he said. "One of the reasons we have procedures is because something has happened somewhere, sometime that you have learned from, and that's why we have the procedures we do have.
"It might look like fiddling," Mitchell said of the preparations, "but it's making sure the person is safe to do his job because you don't want to lose a rescuer."
Mitchell said the dry suits used by the rescuers are designed to keep their bodies dry, but there are openings, such as around the neck, where water can seep in.
Mitchell said from his training, he can say that once out of the water, the person in the suit feels OK for about 15 minutes before the cold sets in. Arrow Ambulance had a "rehabilitation unit" for the firefighters to warm in Tuesday night.
The last firefighters left the pond at 5:44 p.m.