Sunday is a day I won’t forget, because it was the kind that reminds one how fragile life is.
I was at home with my family, having finished putting up the shelves and pictures in my son’s redecorated room, when I received a 12:20 p.m. call from Maj. Todd Noblitt of the Bartholomew County Sheriff’s Department. He informed me that a kayak had overturned by Mill Race Park and the county’s water rescue team had been dispatched. One kayaker was safe, but a second one was missing, he said.
After hanging up, I called assistant managing editor Julie McClure, our editor on call that weekend. I informed her of the rescue effort underway. She took a few notes before hurrying to the scene to gather information for Monday’s story. My job at that point was to post the news flash on our website, therepublic.com, along with subsequent updates from McClure.
As the afternoon progressed, we learned that Alex Cruz, 27, of Columbus, had invited his friend Enrique Quinonez, 27, of Kalamazoo, Mich., down for the weekend. They bought two kayaks so they could enjoy a trip down local waterways. They put their kayaks into the Flat Rock River, which was flooded after recent heavy rains. They had been on the water only a few minutes before Quinonez’s kayak overturned near the Eighth Street bridge close to Indianapolis Road and Mill Race Center. Unfortunately, neither man wore a life jacket, and Quinonez was described as a non-swimmer.
Cruz told police that he jumped out of his kayak, got hold of Quinonez and pulled him to a tree, where they both grabbed hold. But Quinonez lost his grip and went under the water. Cruz told police that he made it to shore and climbed up the bank where a passer-by helped by calling 911 at about 11:27 a.m.
Searches Sunday and the next few days for Quinonez were unsuccessful, despite the use of sonar and the efforts of divers and a helicopter looking from overhead.
While this rescue effort was unfolding, I received a call at 2:10 p.m. from Lindsey Thompson, a clerk who was in The Republic’s newsroom. She had heard over the police scanner that firefighters had been called to a house in the 1200 block of Franklin Street to rescue two toddlers who were on the roof of the house.
I then placed a call to Mike Wilson, spokesman for Columbus Fire Department, to get additional information so that I could post some details on our website and write a story for Monday’s edition. He said firefighters had been called to the home around
1 p.m. because someone had seen the children on the roof and were concerned. The parents had put the children down for a nap and thought they were asleep. The toddlers, both age 2, somehow opened the window and climbed out. However, they were rescued safely by the firefighters. Lt. Matt Myers, spokesman for Columbus Police Department, later told me that Child Protective Services was working with the parents on a safety plan.
The incident with the toddlers just as easily could have ended up as a tragedy like the kayakers. One wrong move by the toddlers, and they could have fallen off and been seriously injured or died.
Conversely, had the kayakers worn life jackets, maybe Quinonez could have climbed onto the bank with Cruz.
It was impossible to not continue thinking about these events later that night. I am a parent of two young children, and I worry often about their safety. I could only imagine how Quinonez’s fiancee and family felt, or what the toddlers’ parents thought of the close call.
Sunday was a day that I took no personal enjoyment in as a journalist, knowing someone’s family is hurting.
All you can hope is that readers think about the thin line between life and death and learn something from the stories.