St. Joseph, MI – Aug. 16 marked the first time that Berrien County Marine Division Deputy Alex Pike, in his third year as a volunteer with the sheriff’s department’s water rescue squad, had been in charge of a boat crew without a sergeant or commander on board.
So when the distress call came in of a medical emergency aboard a boat on Lake Michigan off Jean Klock Park, Pike’s first thought was that he didn’t want to screw up the assignment.
Pike, along with fellow deputies Jacob Achterberg and Travis Dragomer, in their first year with the Marine Division, discovered more than a medical emergency aboard the Drippin’ Wet.
And far from screwing up, they acted quickly and courageously, and their actions helped to save lives, according to awards presented at Thursday’s Board of Commissioners meeting.
Berrien County Undersheriff Chuck Heit presented the certificates honoring the young men for their quick thinking and actions that saved two of the boat’s passengers and other emergency responders from serious harm.
When they came on board the vessel, joining three medical responders, the deputies found that the three passengers had been overcome by carbon monoxide fumes. They found the source, a crack in the exhaust system of a generator, turned it off and vented the boat.
After that, they assisted with administering CPR to the victims.
Cass County resident Leonard Anthony Russell, 53, died as a result of this exposure. Two other passengers, Richard Cook, 63, of Granger, Ind., and Lorri Lynn Mroz, 45, of Cass County, were hospitalized but survived. Two Medic 1 ambulance paramedics also were overcome but were released after treatment.
Their response “clearly was a contributing factor in the limited number of unfortunate victims,” Heit said of the deputies. “These tasks were accomplished during severely dangerous conditions.”
Pike recalled the scene was “hectic,” with as many as eight people on board involved in the rescue.
“We did what we could to help get people off the boat,” Achterberg said.
The young men have public service in their DNA.
Achterberg’s grandfather, Bill Achterberg, was the founder of the Marine Division back in 1959, using his own boat.
“To say I’m proud would be an understatement,” Bill Achterberg, attending the presentation with other family members, commented. “The Marine Division is well-trained and works as a team.”
Bill Achterberg noted that his grandson is the third generation to be involved in public safety.
Travis Dragomer’s father is a sergeant with the Michigan State Police, and his grandfather also was a state police officer.
And their careers as public servants aren’t over.
Pike, from Bridgman, will begin basic training with the U.S. Coast Guard next year. Dragomer, of Stevensville, is planning on a career with the Department of Natural Resources. And Achterberg, also of Stevensville, will study athletic training and sports medicine.