Officers recount river rescue of pregnant woman

Christine Ferretti, and James David Dickson

When Detroit Police officer Brian Gadwell responded to Riverside Park on a late-night emergency call about a woman in the Detroit River, he knew there wasn’t time to waste.

Gadwell and his partner, Steven Rauser, saw a man lying on the river’s edge Monday night, dangling a branch for the woman to grasp, but could tell she was fading fast. That’s when the 17-year veteran shed his gear and dove in.

“At that point, I had to do something,” Gadwell recounted during a Tuesday afternoon news conference alongside Rauser and Detroit Police Chief James Craig. “I couldn’t wait any longer. She was barely hanging on.”

A 911 call came in just before 11 p.m., saying the allegedly suicidal woman had fallen into the water at the park, below Jefferson at the end of West Grand Boulevard.

Gadwell hit the water, wrapped his legs around the woman and steadied himself by grabbing a piece of rebar. But that soon proved a challenge.

“It was bad. I’ve never felt nothing like that in my life. I started losing feeling in my hands and my hands stopped working,” he said. “I thought I was going to die, to be honest with you. I was like, ‘I’m done.’ I was yelling at them, ‘you guys better do something, I can’t hang on.’ ”

Rauser said after Gadwell had been in the water for a couple of minutes, he tried to pull him up. But the drop was about 5 to 7 feet and Rauser ultimately had to jump in too.

“It was an ‘if he’s going in, I’m going in type thing,’ ” said Rauser, who has been with the department for 13 years.

Rauser said the woman clung to his neck and was hanging onto his back before jumping off and floating away.

Soon after, the J.W. Westcott, the marine-based mail delivery ship, pulled up to the scene, along with medics. A medic, who also jumped into the water, and the operator of the barge pulled the woman to safety.

It’s unclear how and why the woman ended up in the water, but Rauser she was definitely scared and fighting for her life.

Gadwell said the woman, who was in the water for at least 15 to 20 minutes, was grateful during the rescue attempt, telling him she loved him.

“I told her, ‘I love you too or else I wouldn’t be in there with you,’” he recalled.

In the end, the two officers, the medic and the woman all were taken to Detroit Receiving Hospital to be treated for hypothermia, said Dave Fornell, deputy fire commissioner for the Detroit Fire Department.

The medic was treated and released. The woman is recovering and the baby boy she was carrying is safe after being delivered via C-section, police said. The officers said they weren’t aware that the woman was pregnant as they worked to pull her from the water.

Craig lauded the officers for their quick action and said he’ll be recommending them for a life-saving medal.

“This is what heroes do,” he said. “I want to make sure they are properly recognized.”

Gadwell and Rauser concluded the tale of the ordeal on a humorous note.

While having his soaked clothing taken off in the EMS rig, Gadwell said his shoes and socks were removed, revealing green and gold polished toenails.

“I said, ‘This is what happens when you have daughters at home,’ ” added Gadwell, a father of two girls, ages 7 and 10. “ ‘Sometimes big tough dad has to sit down at the nail parlor and get my nails done.’ ”

Gadwell said he got teased, only to discover at the hospital that Rauser, the father of an 8-year-old girl, had his toes done by his daughter too — in purple.