Keizer boy rescued from near drowning

Diana Elliott

The following article appeared in the Statesman Journal. Reprinted with permission.

The last thing Joe Jasmer remembers is seeing the slimy pebbles at the bottom of the Little North Santiam River. Then he gasped -- gulping water into his lungs -- and everything went black.

When the 16-year-old Keizer boy regained consciousness about 10 minutes later, he was surrounded by heroes.

His two friends who had pulled him from the bottom of the swimming hole at Bear Creek Park on Monday were at his side, as were a group of strangers who aided in his rescue.

"At the end, I was thinking I was dead," Jasmer recalled as he recovered in Santiam Hospital in Stayton on Tuesday. "I remember touching the bottom and seeing the rocks, and that was it."

But that was only the beginning for Jasmer's buddies, Mike Kuntz and Ty VanDiver, both 17-year-old Keizer boys. When they realized Jasmer had been under water for several minutes, they both dove down to find him.

They struggled to bring him to shore, while five others helped get Jasmer out of the water and prepared to resuscitate him. He had no pulse and was not breathing as he lay on the bank. Seconds later, Jasmer started breathing on his own and eventually regained consciousness.

"Everybody did what they were supposed to do," said Alberto Guillen, 43, of Salem. "It was a real team effort. I was fantastic."

But it was an incident that could have ended tragically at the popular Santiam Canyon swimming hole.

Jasmer, Kuntz and VanDiver had gone to the park Monday afternoon. All three were splashing around in the waist-high water when Jasmer stepped into a 10-foot hole about 6 p.m.

VanDiver knew his friend was in bad shape.

He grabbed him under the arm pits and kicked hard to thrust them to the surface. But as soon as VanDiver could get a breath of air, the two sank back down under their own weight.

The second time he came up for air, Kuntz was there to help get Jasmer to the shore. And the five others assisted getting him safely on the bank.

When they laid him down, Jasmer's lips were blue, and his friends were crying.

Guillen, an Oregon State Hospital employee and emergency medical technician, prepared to resuscitate Jasmer with the help of another woman whom Guillen didn't know.

Before they got started, however, Jasmer vomited and soon began breathing.

All seven people helped take Jasmer up a bank where he eventually was taken by ambulance to the hospital.

On Tuesday, Jasmer was recovering from pneumonia and was grateful that friends and strangers were there for him, he said.

And his friends were grateful, too.

"I never thought he could be saved," VanDiver said, "I said, 'Oh, my God, my friend's dead.'" If there is a lesson to be learned, it is that water play can be deadly even for good swimmers, Guillen said.

"People need to be educated that what looks like a joke, might not always be a joke," he said.

He'd always been a strong swimmer, but Jasmer got caught in a current that pulled him down, he recalled. In a frantic effort to propel himself to the surface, he dislocated a shoulder that was still weak from a months-old injury.

"It sucked me down, and I came up for air, and it sucked me down again," he said.

Jasmer fought in vain, while his friends and the five others frolicked nearby, unaware he was in trouble.

Guillen was about 30 yards away when he noticed that Jasmer had been under water for several minutes. He told Kuntz and VanDiver that their friend wasn't coming up, but they insisted that he was Ok.

"We thought he was just screwing around, because he does that," VanDiver said.

Another minute went by, and Guillen knew something was wrong.

"It was just a strange thing," he said. "He was not flailing around. There were no signals of distress. I could see him clearly at the bottom of the water."

Guillen figured he had been down there about four minutes, and he shouted at the teens to bring Jasmer up.

First Kuntz tried. He swam to the bottom, tugged at his friend's body, but couldn't budge Jasmer who was laying faced-down and was dead weight.

VanDiver then dove under, grabbed Jasmer's arm and was stunned that it was limp.

"He's a weightlifter so his arms are usually bulky and stiff," he said. "But it felt like jelly, and it freaked me out."