Soldier saves child, teen from Chattahoochee River current

tstevens@ledger-enquirer.comMarch 18, 2014 

This sign, located on the Alabama side of the Chattahoochee River, warns people of the risks associated with the fast moving whitewater rapids.

PHOTO BY JOE PAULL — jpaull@ledger-enquirer.com Buy Photo

Second Lt. James Lamoreaux's quick actions saved two lives Saturday afternoon.

Lamoreaux, a soldier recently stationed at Fort Benning, was exploring the Chattahoochee River island near 11th Street and Bay Avenue with his wife, Shannon, when he heard screaming. He spotted two boys — 9 years old and 15 years old — struggling in the current.

"My husband heard the screams of the other people, and just jumped in," Shannon said.

The Columbus Fire Department's swift water rescue team arrived at the scene within three minutes of the boys falling into the water, Fire Marshal Ricky Shores said. By that time, Lamoreaux had already pulled both children to shore.

"He caught up to them and pulled him onto the rocks," Shannon said. "He still had his phone and keys in his pocket. His phone was ruined, but the kids were safe."

After Lamoreaux pulled the boys to safety, the boat crew took them back to shore.

Shores said the 9 year old initially fell into the water while testing its depths. When the first boy fell in, the teen followed in an attempt to save him.

"It's very common that people will jump in after others when they fall in, and it's also very common that the would-be rescuer becomes a victim as well," Shores said.

Luckily, Lamoreaux was a capable swimmer. If he hadn't acted quickly, the situation could have been fatal. Strong waters coupled with cold temperatures can easily overpower swimmers, complicating rescue missions.

"I spoke to the boat crew leader. He felt confident that both kids would have drowned if he hadn't been able to get to them quickly," Shores said. "(The river) was at a low-flow state, but the water was cold, and that provides a shock to your system. It makes it hard for your muscles to move and makes it harder for you to breathe."

The swift water rescue team usually responds within three to four minutes of the incident being reported. But quick response doesn't necessarily mean a quick rescue, Shores said.

"Depending on where they are in the water it can take a while for us to locate the victim," Shores said. "Sometimes they'll come back up to the boat entrance, but the incident actually occurred a half mile down the river."

Shores said Lamoreaux would receive a commendation from the Fire Department at a yet-to-be-determined date. He also reminded parents to be mindful of children, and to employ life jackets whenever possible.

"We're very grateful that he was there to assist that day," Shores said. "These swift waters are very difficult to navigate, and even adults can be overpowered by them."

On Aug. 25, 2013, 44-year-old John Talmadge Attaway's body was pulled from the Chattahoochee River. A homeless man, authorities speculated Attaway had been living out of his car, which was found in Phenix City near the 13th Street Bridge.

His body, found near the boat dock in Rotary Park off of Victory Drive, had been in the water since Aug. 12. His body was so unrecognizable that it could only be identified by visible tattoos on his chest and back.

In August 2012 and early September 2012, five people drowned in the Chattahoochee River.

Krystal Brown, 30, and her 11-month-old son Mister Brown on Aug. 13 after Krystal Brown went into the river after her three-year-old son. That son, David Brown, was flown to a hospital in Atlanta, where he died days later.

Jarvis Willis, 23, died while swimming with two other friends on Aug. 19. His body was found the following day.

Harold Brock, 54, of Greencastle, Ind. died while swimming in the river on Sept. 4. His wife watched him disappear near the Synovus building. He did not resurface for between five and 15 minutes.

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