Authorities detail rescue efforts for man who fell through iced-over pond

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.

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syzlack wrote on January 03, 2013 at 9:01 am

The minute by minute facticity passed on by the stenographer is a little suspicious, in the "protesteth too much" vein.  But less so than the officious "we just did it by the book" and "our high training" position of the police and fire departments.  Eyewitnesses have reported a much different story.   If it was by the book, then the book is obviously a hinderance to common sense.  This is not the first time the Champaign public safety officers have "followed procedure" that makes them look stupid.  Remember the Green St. pepper spraying incident.  Probably time for a better book, or more intellegent officers.

My sense is that it can't be much more than 50 feet from the north or south shore of the pond to the center of it.  Surely the CFD has a ladder truck that goes beyond 50 feet. 

ndbpks wrote on January 03, 2013 at 11:01 am

Do "intellegent" posters know how to spell "hinderance" correctly? I wonder.

Have you ever rescued someone who fell through the ice? I have. He lived. Regardless of the competence of the emergency personnel on the scene, that young man chose to run onto thin ice. It was his own actions that put him in that ice-cold water. This tragedy was entirely preventable. Simply stay off the ice.

syzlack wrote on January 03, 2013 at 4:01 pm

Oh a spelling nitpicker.  Sorry.  And yes I have rescued someone like that.  Well it was a dog, which made it a little difficult given the language barrier.  Your simply stay off the ice comment sounds a lot like he had it coming.  He could have been saved.  Bad procedure and/or too much caution, or simple negligence caused him to drown. 

ronaldo wrote on January 04, 2013 at 11:01 pm

No, Newton.  Walking....errr....running onto thin ice caused him to drown.

But no sense in applying personal responsibility when something doesn't go their way, huh?

kuzn87 wrote on January 03, 2013 at 12:01 pm

syzlack, it's always easy to judge from the outside looking in I'm sure you have never had to put yourself in harms way to try to save a person who was obviously trying to flee the very people that are expected to save him. Truth is I'm glad the police officers and fire men all went home safe as for Mr. Brown he knew the risk in fleeing from the police. sounds to me the wrong people are being criticized here I'm not afraid to speak out on behalf of the heros of Champaign, you should be ashamed of yourself!!!

perryupopcorn wrote on January 05, 2013 at 7:01 am

Heros ?? .. And what will the metals they earned say.. "For unselfishly standing around in the cold watching a young man die" ..

kuzn87 wrote on January 05, 2013 at 11:01 am

There you go running your mouth about things you don't know about I have very close family that risk their lives everyday in the streets of Champaign Urbana to protect us from the scum that are out there. so before you judge just think that person that you are slamming is somebodys daddy or brother and I thank God they are safe! I would choose a Police officers life over a non law abiding citizen anyday of the week!

SR22 wrote on January 07, 2013 at 12:01 am

Could not have said this better myself. 

SaintClarence27 wrote on January 07, 2013 at 4:01 pm

The metals will probably be iron, bronze, zinc, copper, etc. Metals do not say anything - most of them are inert.

dd1961 wrote on January 03, 2013 at 4:01 pm

I drove by there today because I was out running errands.  The video makes it look like he was much closer to the shore than he was.  He was really out in the center and it was quite far away from the side.  The ice after two nights of really cold weather still looks very, very thin.  There is no way that it looks like it could have held weight, and it is too bad he thought it could. Because the ice was very thin, they had to wait until proper help came.


This is very unfortunate, but it really does look like it was handled properly with a very unfortunate ending.

perryupopcorn wrote on January 05, 2013 at 7:01 am

Urbana used a ladder truck to rescue a set of keys on the ice recently..

SaintClarence27 wrote on January 07, 2013 at 4:01 pm

I'm glad the ladder reached. I also can rescue my cell phone from the bottom of a toilet. Unfortunately, it has now died. Guess what? Neither are comparable.

Fromthearea wrote on January 03, 2013 at 11:01 am

I happened to be in that area when this happened.  The response was as fast as it could be. I was afraid at first someone had been shot.  

I know guys on Cornbelt Fire protection district, and if they couldn't get the guy out, there was nothing to be done.  This guy was running from police and it sounds like unfortunately he just made one bad decision after another Sunday.  I feel very bad for his family.  I'm also glad for the officers and rescue personnel that they kept their heads and didn't end up with a higher death toll on the call from acting brashly.  Ice over water is nothing to mess with.

SaintClarence27 wrote on January 04, 2013 at 12:01 pm

This was a thoughtful, well-reasoned post. 

Uh huh wrote on January 03, 2013 at 3:01 pm

I seriously can not stand to read one more negative comment about how the police and fire department weren't doing their jobs.  I challenge everyone who thinks they could have done better to go and take the appropriate certification classes so they can start saving lives.  Let's just see how well you do when such an emergency arises and you have to follow procedure.  Until then, quit bashing the emergency personnel in this town.  It's annoying and disrespectul.

syzlack wrote on January 03, 2013 at 4:01 pm

Well tough. You apologists for any schmuck in a uniform who screws up is sickening.   Disrespect is earned too.  In this case, they failed miserably and for no *good* reason other than screwed up "procedures."   The comments about how the poor guy who died brought it on himself is the same stuff we've heard from the authoritarian yahoos before.  Wanna bet if that was a 10 year old white boy out there in the pond he'd have drowned?

Uh huh wrote on January 03, 2013 at 4:01 pm

When I was a young child, I was taught a few things.  Three of them being to not run from the police, stop when police tell me to stop and never, ever walk onto a frozen body of water.  I'm sorry the young man died, I really am, but as others have mentioned, he made some poor decisions that day.  And if it had been a 10 year old white boy, he very well may have drowned too.  Unfortunately, this is real life and things don't always turn out the way we think they should.  I have said what I needed to say...I'm done commenting on this rubbish and I am now done reading about it.  I have better things to do with my time.

kuzn87 wrote on January 04, 2013 at 11:01 pm

To the people saying that CPD and CFD let Ken Brown Jr. drown before helping because he is black... do you know how stupid you sound? I mean you literally sound dumb... do you know how many black cops and firemen there are? Not to mention human life is not valued on a skin tone chart but I guess you don't see it that way.

perryupopcorn wrote on January 05, 2013 at 8:01 am

they let him die because they were cowards and too stupid to walk a looped rope around that pond and simply pull him out...

hd2006 wrote on January 05, 2013 at 2:01 pm

Says the coward who was stopped by just the threat of arrest!

Newsreader317 wrote on January 05, 2013 at 3:01 am

After reading these comments first and then watching two different video I learned a few things...everyone on here that has negative comments towards responders has absolutley no idea what they are talking about and are basing there thoughts and ideas on emotion, lack of knowledge of emergency services, and false expectations of first responders. As someone with just under a decade of emergency service expirence I would like to offer my opinion to try to help you see things from the responders eyes (if your willing to read). First off when the FD arrived on location they were most likley informed by the police that for some reason this party in the water ran from them and they dont know the reason why or if he will be violent towards responders, and since he ran unfortunilty they have to act on the side of caution not just for themselves but for the public. Once they arrive on scene they have to evaluate the situation and plan the rescue for ex) what is the safest way to get him out of the water with out causing extra risk to themselves in the process. Now some of you think they should not care about there lives and just jump in, but these responders would be no help to any one dead. This is why they cant just jump in and swim out there. While there commanding officers are developing a plan the crew is prepping and getting in there gear, this does not happen at the snap of a finger, again this has to be done correctly otherwise they will end up dead and no one is getting rescued. Now they have to perform the rescue...easier said than done, they have to approach the suspect with caution because as we pointed out earlier they do not know the status of this suspect. Once this guy goes under its not just a matter of going swimming, many people dont realize this department may not have been equiped for underwater rescue. They probaly requested the equipment but were turned down due to budget problems. So a neighboring department brought there team in to assist. Again this takes time. I only ask that before you complain about the people that will do everything in there power to help you regardless of what you type about on a blog that you educate yourself on the matter. To everyone posting about the police threatening arrest if they dont move back did you ever stop and think that you were so worried about getting a good view that you didnt realize how close you got to the edge and they didnt want you falling in? Or maybe your screaming and shouting obsentities at them was only causing a distraction and not helping matters. The second video I saw there was a group of people talking about how stupid this guy was for running from the police and falling through ice, they were making fun of him, but when he went under they started screaming at the FD to do something. So I point this out, while you are sitting there making fun of this guy and calling him stupid, the FD has been prepping to go in and save him regardless of what his crime was. So they were still doing more than you. Lets remember this guy chose to run out on the ice from police, he was not forced out there by anyone.

perryupopcorn wrote on January 05, 2013 at 7:01 am

I know that not long ago The Urbana fire dept was called when a man threw his girlfriend's keys out onto an ice covered pond. They simply went out and got them for her... At least this story, with all it's lies, has finally told the truth about the time he was in the water, for two days they kept saying "a few minutes". And how they keep saying this man was "rescued" is beyond logic. He was recovered, not rescued. Those of us there know that the equipment being waited on is a lie as they ended up tethering to ropes to retrieve him. The same thing they could have done to save him in the first place... And actually they never had to get in the water at all, they could have walked a rope around the pond from the bank in less than a minute while he was still above the water. I guess that wasn't part of the great training program they had..

rsp wrote on January 06, 2013 at 10:01 am

You're making another assumption that he would have grabbed on to the rope. And held on. You don't know what his mental state was. The fact that he was still alive for almost 8 hours makes it a rescue. I don't understand why you would take that time away from his family. But you really need to give it a rest. This isn't about you. This is about Kenny. Stop making it about you. 

barb dwyer wrote on January 05, 2013 at 7:01 pm

long long rope...tie loop in middle..two people...each takes an end of the stands on bank..the other other person walks the bank until they are on the oppisite side of pond...both walk in the direction of the young man until rope is touching the young man...pull rope until loop is at young man...hopefully young man can put his arms through the loop or hold on...people pull rope until young man is on ice and safe...surefire way to get rope to young man...still may not have worked out, unless young man was able and willing to help some..and of course our prayers go out to all

outoftownie wrote on January 07, 2013 at 12:01 am

I see we are still bringing up the rope loop idea. It is nice in theory, but difficult in practice.

First, you need a long enough rope. And it has to be a strong enough rope too. I know Menard's is right there, but I think you will probably have to tie a few together. You will have to guess about where to put the slip knot loop, and hope it does not come out while you are dragging it over the ice. It is going to be clumsy, and heavy. Also, every knot in a rope makes it weaker. Tying two ropes together reduces the overall strength of both of them. This increases your chances of breakage.

Let's say you do find such a rope, and get it put together so it is long enough. By now, the man has been in the freezing water for several minutes. He is not going to be able to grasp very well, if at all. You can try yelling at him to slip the loop over his head, but chances are, he is suffering from hypothermia and frostbite, and probably in shock on top of all that. He is also going to be heavier than normal to move because he is weighed down with water, and probably will not be able to move very well.

I am not trying to rain on everyone's parade, but I do not think that this rescue would be as easy as everyone likes to think. If it were me and a few bystanders, of course I would try it or something similar, (tying a bowline in the end and trying to heave the rope over his shoulder comes to mind,) but with the professionals out there, the best thing you can do is get out of their way and let them do their jobs.

Yes, I am an old Boy Scout.

rsp wrote on January 07, 2013 at 11:01 am

Unfortunately it's nothing to do with whether or not they could have saved him. It's just an opportunity to bash on someone who tried their best to save someone. Reality doesn't matter. 

SaintClarence27 wrote on January 07, 2013 at 4:01 pm

It's just armchair quarterbacking. Bet Poppy thinks he could outthrow Cutler, too.

rsp wrote on January 09, 2013 at 7:01 am

What to do when you fall through the ice- includes facts about the effects of the cold on the water over time. straight forward how to video. Shows a demo.

mootcaroo wrote on January 09, 2013 at 12:01 pm

As a former Navy Search and Rescue swimmer, I can see both sides to this issue: Of course entering the water is the last thing you want to do, but when a man is immersed in near-freezing temps, he'll perish within minutes, and is generally unable to resist any type of water-borne entry or attempt to rescue him. I usually have my gear nearby. Five minutes to don the dry suit. Five minutes to tether. I understand the dangers of rescuing in a dry suit, since a rip in the suit will create heavy drag on a swimmer, and tethering is necessary, as is a crew to haul in the swimmer and body. Fins, mask, and rescue harness need to be on. Rescue strop at the ready. Get the man in less than two minutes after clearning the ice. Rescue personnel should have the training to subdue a resisting or panicking subject. One of the options is to drown the subject in order to save him/her. It's better than letting the man die a horrible death. I respect the police and fire and emergency crews of Champaign, and I feel horrible that they had to sit and watch a man die. And in spite of the man's erratic behavior, nobody deserves to die like this. What a horrific tragedy for all. I hope some new training evolves out of this. 

SaintClarence27 wrote on January 09, 2013 at 12:01 pm

But it was only 13 minutes after the FD arrived, so that would fit even your stringent timeline.