A man who couldn't swim got pushed into crowded lake. 2 sheriff's heroes were there to save him.
Two employees of the Lake County sheriff's office marine unit said a little luck, giving clear commands, and being in the right place at the right time helped them save the life of a person pushed into the Chain O' Lakes before the start of the Fox Lake fireworks earlier this year.
"If we weren't there, he definitely would have drowned," said Steve Wernikoff, a 30-year deputy. "We were in the right place, kept a sharp eye out for trouble, and managed to get them home safely."
Wernikoff was patrolling Nippersink Lake with Ryan McCormack, a civilian employee of the sheriff office. McCormick said he normally does not patrol the waterways as a civilian employee but was pulled in to assist Wernikoff June 30 because of large crowds and the heavy boat traffic expected due to the Fox Lake fireworks.
Wernikoff said about 1,000 boats packed the water near the village's Lakefront Park, and the sheriff's office vessel was maneuvering through the crowded lake, keeping an eye out for problems.
"We noticed a boat that didn't appear to be anchored with a couple of people standing on the stern of the boat," Wernikoff said. "We started to drive over there to advise of the safety issues, when one of the people on the boat pushed another person into the lake."
Wernikoff said people on the boat screamed "He can't swim!" before a second person dove into the water.
"(The victim) was flailing his arms and gasping for air when the other person dove in," Wernikoff said. "But the victim was panicking and trying to climb on the back of the person who jumped in."
McCormack said the 30-year-old victim from Chicago was "extremely fit and muscular," the size of a bodybuilder, and had completed a strenuous workout in the morning.
"The person who jumped in the water was not nearly as fit as the victim," McCormack said. "And because the boat wasn't anchored, it started drifting away from the struggling victim."
By this point, the boat had drifted about 20 feet from the two in the water, McCormack said.
Wernikoff got the sheriff's unit boat close to the victim and McCormick deployed a life ring, which landed near the victim.
Wernikoff said they gave the victim "clear and concise directions" to let go of the second swimmer, reach out and grab the flotation device.
The two pulled the victim back to the boat, where he was able to grab onto a deployable ladder and was pulled to safety.
"We got him under control, calmed down, then got them back to their boat," Wernikoff said. "We were happy with the outcome. This could have resulted in a much less desirable outcome."
McCormack said the save "reinforces why the sheriff's office is out there."
"The mission of the sheriff's office is not to be the 'no fun' police, it's to promote safety and enforce the rules and regulations on the water," he said.
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