Workers honored for rushing to rescue man who jumped into Mississippi River
By MARA H. GOTTFRIED | Pioneer Press, St. Paul, Minn. | Published: June 13, 2018
ST. PAUL, Minn. (Tribune News Service) — “Man overboard!” shouted a barge cleaner at Upper River Services when he saw a man struggling in the Mississippi River in St. Paul last month.
Beasley Baker had finished his work early that day and stayed to do safety training. When he took a break, he walked toward the river and spotted the man in the water.
“Everything that happened, it happened for a reason because we weren’t even supposed to be here,” Baker said Tuesday, after the Ramsey County sheriff’s office and the U.S. Coast Guard honored him and four of his co-workers who saved the man.
At about 2 p.m. on May 2, someone saw a man pacing on the Robert Street bridge in downtown St. Paul, before he climbed over the barrier and jumped to the river 40 feet below, said Ramsey County Sheriff Jack Serier.
The river was at flood level — it was 7 feet higher than it is now and “the flow was twice as fast and hard as it is today,” said Lee Nelson, president of Upper River Services, the St. Paul-based company that handles barge towing, cleaning and repairs among its operations.
The water was estimated to be 38 degrees and the 31-year-old man was in it for nearly 10 minutes, “struggling severely to keep his head above water,” said U.S. Coast Guard Lt. Matt MacKillop, supervisor of the Marine Safety Detachment in St. Paul.
“They didn’t look for someone else to do something,” Nelson said of his employees who heard Baker’s shout and rushed to help. “They realized that there wasn’t going to be time to find someone else. They took it upon themselves to do what they felt they needed to do.”
Randy Kohl, a mechanic who has worked for Upper River Services for nearly 27 years, drove a tow boat toward the man. They caught up with him by the Lafayette/U.S. 52 bridge.
Barge cleaner Russ Galvan was on the boat and threw a life ring to the man, who tossed it back. Galvan tried again and told him, “Put your arm in it or you’re going to die.”
The man, “who was exhausted at this point,” put his arm in the ring, Galvan said. He pulled him to the boat and then lifted him out of the water with co-worker Jesse Harrison’s help.
Galvan, who lifts weights as a hobby, said his adrenaline kicked in and the man felt light. But the man was agitated, telling Galvan that he jumped off the bridge because Lucifer was chasing him.
“He tried to get up and fight,” said Galvan, who held the man down until they got to land. Harrison, an Upper River Services mechanic who was previously a U.S. Navy Engineman Second Class, said he tried to keep the man calm.
The sheriff’s office water patrol had responded, as had St. Paul police. St. Paul fire department paramedics took the man to Regions Hospital for treatment and observation, Serier said.
After seeing too many tragedies — they’ve spotted people in the river who were already dead — Kohl and the crew said it was meaningful to be able to save someone, though they weren’t expecting to be honored.
“I saw a guy who needed help and was glad to be there to help him out,” Harrison said.
Serier presented the men with the Sheriff’s Award for Excellence and the U.S. Coast Guard awarded them with the Certificate of Merit “for their selfless actions,” MacKillop said.
Ben Brooks, an Upper River Services mechanic who was involved in the rescue, was also recognized at Tuesday’s ceremony, but couldn’t be there because he’s serving with the Wisconsin National Guard.
“While we may be the full-time guardians of public safety, really all of us in our community play a role and at a moment’s notice … we may be called upon to do something we weren’t expecting to do that day,” Serier said, adding that the crewmen had done just that in saving the man’s life last month.
FOR HELP | The National Suicide Prevention lifeline is at 800-273-TALK (8255). Suicide prevention information is available at save.org.
U.S. Coast Guard Capt. Scott Stoermer, sector commander for the Upper Mississippi River, presents Beasley Baker, Randy Kohl, Russ Galvan and Jesse Harrison the Certificate of Merit for rescuing a man who jumped into the Mississippi River in May. Ramsey County Sheriff Jack Serier, in the same Tuesday, June 12, 2018 ceremony, presented the men with the Sheriff’s Award for Excellence. Ben Brooks, an Upper River Services mechanic who was involved in the rescue, was also recognized at Tuesday’s ceremony, but couldn’t be there because he’s serving with the Wisconsin National Guard.
U.S. COAST GUARD