Residents pitch in, prevent drowning
Thursday started off simply enough for Skylar Ross, but by that night, the Basehor-Linwood High School sophomore would pull a woman from the Kansas River.
Skylar left early from the Tonganoxie Invitational track meet because he was still recovering from a knee injury.
That evening, Skylar decided to join his father, Matt Ross, and his grandmother at her house in De Soto.
The Rosses’ frequent trips to De Soto are usually uneventful, but that was about to change.
“When we got over the (Wyandotte Street) bridge we both saw that there was a lady with a white T-shirt and blonde hair coming our way,” Matt said. “She was walking on the southbound lane so we scooted to the middle of the street to avoid her. You always have to wonder why someone is walking on the bridge. She must have had somewhere to go, but there is no sidewalk or walkway on the bridge.”
Skylar noticed something else.
“She looked real sad, and she looked like she was kind of depressed,” he said.
The pair kept an eye on the woman through the truck’s mirrors.
“The next thing you know, we see her step over the railing and take another step,” Matt said. “We lost her from view, and there is only one way to go and that’s down.”
Matt stepped on the brakes, turned the car around and sped back to the bridge. Matt said they looked down at the 60-foot drop and immediately spotted her in the Kansas River. At that point, they couldn’t tell if she was alive or dead.
They called 911 and told the dispatchers what they had just seen.
Five minutes later, around 7:20 p.m., a group of emergency personnel arrived at the bridge.
The Rosses got back in their truck with hopes of getting in front of the woman to attempt a rescue.
By the time Skylar and Matt reached the water, Todd Maxton with Johnson County’s Northwest Consolidated Fire District was on the scene.
They saw the 60-year-old Olathe woman heading in their direction and heard the woman asking for help.
The group continued east while maintaining a visual on the woman.
“There were times when she was face down in the water,” Maxton said. “That’s when I made the determination that... we were going to need to act soon.”
About a quarter-mile east of Kill Creek, Maxton made his first rescue attempt.
They climbed down the bank to get to the water. Maxton got in the water and threw a rope to her. It fell five feet short.
Maxton told the Rosses to keep moving and try to catch up with her at another part of the river while he collected his rope.
Matt and Skylar continued to follow the tracks east.
Where the river started to bend to the northeast, the pair ran into a fenced area in which the city of Olathe has three collector wells fed by the Kansas River.
Two Johnson County Sheriff’s deputies were there and told the Rosses where they could find a fence opening.
The pair had lost sight of the woman when they reached the fence. To make up time, Skylar ran ahead to see if he could catch her.
Skylar came by the first collector well and called out. He heard no reply. He then headed northeast to the next well, and that’s when he saw her close to shore, snagged on some brush.
He slid down the bank and found a tree branch that could reach her.
“She wasn’t really paying attention to me at all,” Skylar said. “I was trying to get her attention. I was trying to get her to look at me. She wasn’t really focusing on me. I kind of raised my voice and I said, ‘ma’am, what color is my shirt?’ This got her attention. She looked at me and said, ‘Red’. I said ‘good’ and I told her to grab the stick. She grabbed the stick with her right hand and then I told her to grab the stick with her left hand and then I pulled her up a little out of the water.”
He had her out of the water, up to her waist, when Maxton caught up. He jumped in the water, behind the woman.
Matt arrived and tossed the rope from the top of the bank down to Skylar and Maxton so they could secure the woman.
Matt went down to help Maxton while Skylar went to find help.
Soon emergency responders began converging on their location and the woman was hoisted to land.
“She wasn’t looking good,” Matt said. “Her skin was pretty milky white. It was obvious she was experiencing hypothermia and shock.”
Rescue crews arrived to stabilize the woman and soon had her in an ambulance heading to Overland Park Regional Medical Center.
Looking back on the night, Matt said a lot of factors were working in their favor for the rescue.
Firstly, the sun was still out when she walked off the bridge.
“If she had attempted this one hour later, it would have been in the dark, and we would have very easily lost sight of her in the water,” Matt said.
Secondly, Matt and Skylar are both Eagle Scouts.
Matt said scouting taught them not to jump in the water to save the woman, but attempt to reach her with something from the shore. Scouting also taught them the proper way to tie a rope around a person to hoist them out of the water.
Maxton said what Matt and Skylar did was extraordinary.
“I don’t expect this out of any citizen,” Maxton said. “Because I got separated from my team, both Skylar and Matt became part of the rescue effort. We were all rescuers in this situation.”
Maxton said even with all of the risks involved, the Rosses proceeded cautiously, avoiding becoming victims themselves.
Although they don’t know the woman, Matt and Skylar continue to think about her and hope she gets the treatment she needs.
“I hope she recovers and finds some meaning in her life to continue on with life,” Matt said.
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