Quick thinking on the part of a Prineville man who is also a member of the Oregon Army National Guard saved a girl who was in the Deschutes River Monday.
>Guardsman Tom Hoy rescues girl in Deschutes River
According to information from the 1st Squadron, 82nd Cavalry (RSTA), 41st IBCT at about 5 p.m., four National Guard soldiers were on duty participating in recruiting activities near the Deschutes River. Three of the soldiers, including Specialist Tom Hoy, were by the river. Hoy is also a reserve police officer with the Prineville Police Department.
"While near the river, ... Hoy observed three children on inner-tubes, with no life jackets, who were floating downstream, dangerously near a spillway," according to the press release.
"I guess I'm in a bit of shock about how big a deal people are making of this," Hoy said. "Because it's not like I put myself in harm's way."
"I actually saw the kids a good 20 minutes before," he said, crediting his police training with helping him. "I saw three separate kids on inner tubes and there were no adults around them. I talked to them as they went under the bridge to see if they were OK."
He said there were several people on the footbridge as the youth were in the river.
"In fact there were two other soldiers with me who helped," Hoy said, referring to SPC Amanda Schmidt and SPC Jacob Alexander.
"I guess when I did switch gears from observer to participant - is I guess what I would say. I asked if they were OK," he said. The children were crying. The big brother was telling his little brother and sister "we're going to go into shore, we're going to go into shore."
"The little girl was still upriver from the two little boys, so they were closest to the bank," he said.
The older boy got a hold of his little brother's inner tube.
"So I directed him to tow his brother to the nearest bank, which was the Drake Park side," Hoy recalled. "Then Specialist Schmidt stood on the bridge to talk with the girl as she went under."
"When I was on the other side of the river helping her two brothers out, she was shouting for help," he said. The older brother was able to move himself around on his inner tube and he was trying to help his younger brother. The two brothers were on one side of the Deschutes River and she was on the other.
Hoy said the three children were one spillway below an area where a woman had drowned the day before.
"We were actually at Drake Park," Hoy said.
Hoy said the children's father was about an eighth of a mile up river and had lost sight of his kids. The father was handicapped, and Hoy estimated that because of this, he wasn't able to easily help the children.
Upon returning the girl, whom Guard personnel estimate is about 6 or 7 years old, Hoy spoke with her father.
"I said they really should have life vests on and they should really stay within your view," Hoy recalled.
Hoy said he at first jumped into the water, assuming it was only a foot deep. In fact, Hoy went into the water waist deep, and sank into mud and reeds.
"After a while I had to crawl on my hands and knees to get through the reeds because it was so deep," the specialist said.
After helping the two brothers off of the bank, Hoy told the girl to grab some weeds that grew out of the water and instructed another soldier to stay on the near side of the Deschutes River in case she let go and made it near that side, according to a press release from the Guard.
"And that's when I told her to wait there for me," he said. He had to run upriver, back across the bridge and to Pageant Park and through some yards and over some fences.
Hoy and Alexander did not have to get into the water to help the boys, but held the boys' hands as they got closer to the bank so that they could pull them in.
Hoy has lived in the Prineville area about three to three and a half years.
"I originally came here as the service manager at the Ford dealership here in Prineville," he said. Hoy was originally in the Guard for four years. "I started originally in '89, was when I went to basic, but I took about 10 years off to work for Les Schwab and to pursue my law enforcement career, which was most recent."
The praise has been evident for the specialist.
"Without any concern for his personal safety, SPC Hoy entered the waist deep, moving water and was able to have the girl climb onto his back, where he carried her to safety," according to the press release.
Hoy remained modest.
"I was just in the right place at the right time," he said. "That's all anybody can hope for. "