Man rescues teenager from drowning

Published: July 6, 2006 | 4403rd good news item since 2003

The 13-year-old boy stood at the top of the ladder on the north pier and reached for his father, who was dripping wet and exhausted after saving a stranger’s life in Lake Michigan on the Fourth of July.

Eric Shinabarker hugged his father Curtis for a long time.

“He kept saying, ‘Dad, I’m really proud of you,”’ Curtis Shinabarker said.

He also realized how lucky he was that his father – who had never previously used the lifeguard training he took 30 years ago – survived the rescue.

Shinabarker, 46, of Brighton, is credited with rescuing a 16-year-old Grand Rapids youth who had gone under the choppy waves north of the north pier at Grand Haven.

The teen, Martell Travis Jones, was jumping from the pier with friends about 8:30 p.m. when he was caught by a rip tide, said Ottawa County Sheriff’s Sgt. Keith Koeman. The last word Jones uttered was “help” as he resurfaced, then went back under.

Shinabarker, an engineering manager for General Motors, is vacationing this week with his family at Yogi Bear Jellystone Campground near Grand Haven. They were at the Grand Haven beach on the Fourth of July to watch fireworks when they heard shouts from the pier:

“He’s drowning! Over here! He’s drowning!”

“Nobody else was going in, and he was going under,” Shinabarker said. He raced onto the pier, stripped off his hat, shoes and sunglasses and gave his wallet to Eric before jumping in wearing jeans and a T-shirt.

“You’re not going to do what I think you’re going to do?” Eric recalled thinking, but he didn’t say a word.

Within a few strokes, his father had reached and grabbed Jones, who was semiconscious. Waves pushed them toward the pier, then pulled them out. At the same time, an Ottawa County Sheriff’s Marine Patrol boat, which had been nearby on the channel, was headed their way.

Shinabarker said he recalled the lifeguard training he took in 1976. He spun Jones so Jones’ back was to him. Then he reached around Jones’ chest with his left arm and clutched Jones’ right shoulder. He swam one-handed to the pier.

As he huffed and puffed, Shinabarker wondered whether he would survive.

“I started questioning myself: I’m not nearly in the shape I think I am,” he said.

Among the hands reaching down from the pier were those of Shinabarker’s 16-year-old son, Kyle. He and others helped pull up the victim, who was breathing but unable to talk, but they couldn’t help Shinabarker.

Marine patrol officers tossed a pair of life rings toward him. Shinabarker said he swam toward their boat, clutching a life ring, but the waves were too strong to climb aboard. So he swam for the ladder about 50 yards away, he said.

A short time later, as the victim was treated and released at North Ottawa Community Hospital, Shinabarker and his family were watching the fireworks.

“It was pretty heroic,” Eric said. “Really brave.”

Published in Rescues
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