Hero, cop and K-9 team up in rescue

by: VERN UYTAKE Here is the Challenge Coin presented to Dennis Elleson. LOPD Police Chief Don Johnson hopes the honor will inspire other citizens to take heroic action when necessary.

Police Chief Don Johnson was happy to honor a citizen like Dennis Elleson with the Chief's Challenge Coin.

Because of Elleson's quick, bold action, plus his terrific teamwork with a K-9 team from the Lake Oswego Police Department, the life of a 15-year-old girl was saved.

Johnson was laughing and Elleson shed some tears when the coin was presented on Oct. 5 at Foothills Park.

'This guy is a hero,' Johnson said. 'Otherwise how could he have gotten to the girl? This ceremony is so nice. My hope is that this will get other folks involved.'

The girl was a troubled runaway from Christie School. On the night of Sept. 5 she left a suicide note that read: 'The next time you will see me I'll be washed up on the shore,' and then ran into the dark, wet night toward the Willamette River.

However, she did not get to the river's edge.

Instead, running through bushes, she became caught on a 15-foot-high cliff across from Hog Island, unable to get up or down. But help was on the way.

'The Christie staff called, but the girl got a good head start on us,' said Officer Josh Day. 'She was last seen heading into the woods. She was a half-mile ahead of us when we started the search. She cut through some brush on a hillside of sheer rock and was clinging to some blackberry bushes.'

It was Charger, the prize-winning German shepherd of the LOPD K-9 Corps, that found the girl's trail so Day could begin the dangerous rescue operation.

Fortunately, help was immediately at hand. Elleson, a 56-year-old retiree from Portland who lives year-round on the Willamette River, was out in his motorboat when he heard a faint cry for help.

'I didn't know what was going on,' Elleson said. 'I thought it was some kid pulling a prank. Then I heard another cry for help and this one was a lot louder. I saw Josh and Charger and several police cars. I hopped on my boat and went over there.'

Officer, dog and citizen reached the imperiled girl at the same time, and Elleson found himself doing something he had never done before: Scaling straight up sheer rock.

'How did I climb those rocks?' Elleson said. 'I guess it was a spiritual strength that came in. I was filled with a total selflessness trying to help someone in need.'

Day and Elleson helped the girl repel down the rocky hillside to safety. Elleson had a foot on the bow of the boat and he was ready to risk a hard landing to save the girl's life.

'I would've let the boat go if necessary,' Elleson said.

The girl, clad in a white T-shirt, jeans and tennis shoes, was scared and her hair was soaked and tangled. But she had a new lease on life. She had been very scared, but Day said, 'She was in good spirits on the boat.'

Elleson was the first nonpolice officer to receive the Chief's Challenge Coin from Johnson, and the new chief greatly enjoyed the presentation. Elleson, the humble hero, received a medal; Day was called a hero by Elleson; and Charger earned nonstop hugs and petting from two dog-struck girls.

'I don't expect to give away a lot of these medals,' Johnson said. 'It takes something special to get one.'

But Johnson thinks Elleson has set an outstanding example for other citizens.