CCHS foreign exchange student Leandre Nicolai pulled a boy who was unconscious and under water to safety

by: KEVIN SPERL - Leandre Nicolai (left) at home with members of his host family, Katelyn, 5, and Traci Barrett.

On Sunday, June 8, at 6 p.m., Crook County Sheriff deputies, along with Fire and Rescue personnel, and a Life Flight helicopter were called to the Prineville Reservoir State Park swimming area for a reported juvenile that had been underwater.

The park was also where Leandre Nicolai, 18, a Crook County High School foreign exchange student from Mons, Belgium, had come with some friends and his host family, Traci and Troy Barrett.

The coincidence turned out to be fortunate for the juvenile, as it was Nicolai who pulled him from the water.

Nicolai and his friends had noticed three other boys at the beach and promptly forgot about them as they enjoyed their time in the water.

“I was playing around with another friend in the water near the beach when we heard them yell for help,” explained Nicolai. “I didn’t realize at first that there was anything wrong until they said it with some fear in their voices.”

It was then that Nicolai took notice and observed two of the boys struggling with the third.

“They didn’t look strong enough to help him, so I swam out to them,” he said.

Nicolai explained that he has been swimming since he was very young and, having played water polo for five years, was a very strong swimmer.

He covered the approximate 25-yard distance between him and the boys in record time.

“One of my friends told me to go, so I swam as fast as I could,” said Nicolai. “When I got there and finally found him underwater, he was not moving. It was really scary.”

Nicolai said that the water was a greenish-yellow and he had trouble seeing clearly, quickly becoming afraid that he wouldn’t be able to reach the boy.

Finally spotting him about six feet down, Nicolai quickly determined that the boy was unconscious.

“I grabbed his wrist and wrapped my arm around him from behind,” explained Nicolai. “When I reached the surface, I asked his friends to help me to the floating dock.”

Observing this from the shore, Traci Barrett had called 9-1-1, which brought emergency personnel to the scene.

Out on the dock, the rescued boy was breathing but, according to Nicolai, seemed to be going in and out of consciousness. Nicolai had recently completed CPR training that taught him not to use the technique on a patient that was breathing, so he waited until the local park ranger arrived in a private boat.

At that point, emergency personnel had arrived as well, treating the boy at the scene and loading him into the Life Flight helicopter to be taken to St. Charles in Bend.

For Nicolai it was a frightening way to end his year here in Prineville, one that saw him participate in a variety of sports including football and tennis.

Back in Belgium, he had applied with the International Student Exchange and found out a few days before he was scheduled to leave that he was coming to Prineville.

“I Googled 'Prineville' and figured out it was a pretty small town,” said Nicolai. “But, I heard that Facebook was here and thought that would be cool.”

Having graduated from school in Belgium, Nicolai was beginning to think about what he wanted to do after high school.

“I wanted to live the American life and improve my English,” he said.

Troy Barrett is the area representative for the exchange program and, after Nicolai had broken his leg playing junior varsity football last fall, he transferred him to their home.

“Traci is home during the day, so I thought it best for him while he recovered from his leg injury,” he said, explaining that the incident resulted in a steel plate being inserted into his leg.

Nicolai, who is known affectionately as “Waffle” to his friends, is scheduled to return to Belgium on Sunday.

“My parents want me to go on to college, but I want to do something else,” he said with a smile. “I want to go to Los Angeles and pursue acting, but my parents don’t think its a good idea.”

Regardless of his plans, Nicolai leaves Central Oregon knowing that he did what needed to be done that day out at Prineville Reservoir.

“We hadn’t gone out there all year and we decided to go to at the last minute,” he said. “Afterward my legs were shaking and I felt really tired.”

As of press time, the condition of the juvenile could not be confirmed by the authorities.

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