Couple’s morning walk turns into rescue mission

Published: October 30, 2007 | 6786th good news item since 2003

A rescue at the Fox River last week might not have been, had Batavia resident Tom Wangler been on time for his morning walk.

Wangler and his wife, Paula Mueller, left just minutes later than normal for their usual Wednesday morning walk a little after 9 a.m. Oct. 24 when they came across a capsized canoe and a man and woman trying to stay afloat in the Fox River near the Batavia Boat Club.

“We asked if they were OK and they didn’t answer,” Wangler said.

Wangler called 911 and then stripped down to his boxer shorts and T-shirt and jumped into the water where he called upon his lifeguard skills he learned as a Boy Scout years ago,

Wangler was nearest to Brittany Trushel, 25, who was treading water in attempt to get to shore. Erik Smolik, 27, was clinging to the canoe.

“They had so much winter clothes on their bodies they couldn’t swim,” Wangler said.

He coached Trushel to fight the cold water and keep kicking.

“I went in up to my knees, coaching her. Then I kept going closer to her until the water got up to my neck. I was able to reach her fingertips and then her arm,” he said.

Soon Wangler was able to pull her to shore.

“That’s when I figured out Eric had given her both life jackets to get to shore,” he said. “I had been yelling at Eric to let go of the boat, that we’d get it later. Then I understood.”

Wangler then went out after Smolik, struggling to keep his footing in the current. He threw a life jacket to Smolik.

“I proceeded to make the worst throw of my life,” he said. “I said, ‘That’s all you get Erik. You’ve got to start swimming.’”

At first, Smolik resisted, saying he couldn’t move his legs, Wangler said.

“I kept coaching him and he finally let go of the canoe and he went for it,” he said.

Wangler told him to keep kicking.

“Sure enough he got to where I could pull him ashore,” he said.

Trushel and Smolik, employees of the Illinois Natural History Survey, a division of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, had been in the Fox River collecting water samples to evaluate the effects of dam removal on the aquatic insects in the area, said Marcelyn Love, Department of Natural Resources spokeswoman.

“This has been an ongoing project,” Love said.

Both Trushel and Smolik were taken to Delnor-Community Hospital and released.
Wangler refused treatment. Instead, he went home to take a hot shower and went to Starbucks for coffee to warm up before heading to Confident Aire, the heating and air conditioning business he owns in Batavia.

Batavia Deputy Fire Chief Randy Deicke lauds Wangler’s efforts.

“Anytime somebody will get into cold water like that and risk their life to help somebody else, that’s a wonderful thing,” he said.

Deicke said people like Wangler who go above and beyond are often given a citizen’s award. Batavia Fire Department officials believe the Trushel and Smolik had been in the water about 15 minutes.

Wangler credits the rescue to being at the right place at the right time.

“Had we been on time we probably would have waved at them as we went by,” he said. “They would have just been floating by in their canoe. It’s the kind of thing that gives you little tingles on your back. Sometimes it just all works out.”

Published in Rescues
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