Off-duty Evanston cop plucks boy from freezing Des Plaines river
Updated: March 6, 2013 5:42PM
Next to a sinking orange Bears hat, a tiny hand popped through the icy waters of the Des Plaines river Tuesday afternoon.
Off-duty Evanston Police Officer Sean O’Brien didn’t hesitate. He grabbed the hand and plucked a 7-year-old boy from the water, saving his life.
Moments earlier, O’Brien, 26, had spotted the boy running around the intersection of River Road and Miner Street in Des Plaines. He got out of his car and tried to cajole the boy to safety. No parents were in sight, and dozens of other motorists had passed by without doing anything, O’Brien said.
“He picked up a chunk of snow the size of a football and took off running,” said O’Brien, who chased the boy. The boy scurried down to the concrete embankment of the Des Plaines River, hurled the chunk of snow in the water and stood there mesmerized for a moment. Then he jumped in after it, O’Brien said.
O’Brien, trailing the boy by a few feet, could see the boy’s orange Bears cap beneath the river’s surface, and he jumped in the water, which came up to his waist.
The boy’s hand broke the water’s surface. O’Brien grabbed it and carried the hysterical boy to his SUV and blasted the heat. O’Brien’s girlfriend calmed down the boy by introducing him to the couple’s 10-month-old puppy, Shandy, a border collie/lab mix.
“The boy couldn’t really complete full sentences to say who he was or where he lives,” O’Brien said.
An ambulance arrived about a minute later and took the boy, who was in good condition, to Lutheran General Hospital, Des Plaines Fire Chief Alan Wax said. The boy’s mom was at the hospital later, but police said they didn’t have any information about why the boy was in the street unaccompanied before he jumped in the river.
“It could have been a lot worse,” O’Brien said Tuesday night as he headed to a Blackhawks game.
There was no ice on the river, but the current was moving and there are steep dropoffs near the shoreline, a fact that flashed into his mind before he jumped in.
But for the snow Tuesday, O’Brien might never have crossed paths with the boy.
O’Brien, who lives in Des Plaines, had just picked up food at Superdawg and made a trip to the pet store before deciding to call it a day because the roads were snow-covered.
That’s when he saw the boy.
It wasn’t the first time O’Brien made a split-second decision to leap into a dangerous situation.
In 2009, he saved a fellow police officer from a burning car after a crash. He received the Evanston Police Department’s medal of valor for that rescue.