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 October 08, 2010

People

Soldier rescues infant from overturned canoe in Kickapoo River

By Tom Michele, Eagle Systems & Services

A former Fort McCoy Soldier won the battle to save the life of a three-month-old boy floating down a swollen, fast-moving river under an overturned canoe.

PHOTO: Capt. Laith Cox and Cecilia Scott paddle their canoe on the Kickapoo River.  Cox rescued an infant from an overturned canoe. Contributed photo
Capt. Laith Cox and Cecilia Scott paddle their canoe on the Kickapoo River. Cox rescued an infant from an overturned canoe. (Contributed photo)

Capt. Laith Cox, who then was assistant mobilization plans officer at Fort McCoy’s Mobilizing Unit Inprocessing Center, was on a canoe trip July 24 with 17 other Soldiers and McCoy civilian employees when he turned near tragedy into a life-saving event.

The eight-canoe McCoy fleet was proceeding downstream on the Kickapoo River.

About a quarter-mile from the starting point at Ontario, the entourage encountered a large tree lying across half of the river at a large curving bend, Cox explained. Cox and his canoe-partner, Cecilia Scott, saw one of the other canoes overturned and a canoeist draped over the overturned canoe floating away and the other standing on the fallen tree in the middle of the river.
The canoeist hanging onto the tree was Sgt. Jocquette Williams, chaplain assistant at the Fort McCoy Religious Support Office.

Cox and Scott went to the shore where Cox climbed up a very steep embankment to go back and assess the situation.
As he walked back he discovered Staff Sgt. Corey Bolton and his wife, Staff Sgt. Zanni Howe-Bolton also had tipped over in the fiasco and were stuck on a sandbar-grass area. Then, the first of five canoes from another group approached. In it was a man with a three-month-old infant on his lap, a woman and a three-year-old girl, all wearing personal flotation devices.

“I was searching for Williams,” Cox said, “and yelling at the Boltons to stop the other canoeists from approaching. At that moment the Family’s canoe slammed into the tree and started to tip over. I just jumped into the river knowing they would need help.”

Cox said he saw the man, woman and girl headed to shore, but didn’t see the three-month-old. “I asked them and they didn’t know. So I swam to the overturned canoe, tried to flip it over, but couldn’t. I swept my hand under the canoe and felt the infant and pulled him out.”

Cox then held the child with one hand and swam with the other. Cox handed the child to the man and resumed his search for Williams, who he then saw had climbed along the tree and was safely ashore.

Williams vividly recalls the incident, as she was in the middle of it.

“The other Family’s canoe hit the tree right by me, and then I helped push it off the tree and back to the open river,” Williams said. “They got about 10 yards out to the center and then it flipped over. I then saw the splash of Captain Cox hitting the water to help.”

“Even in the midst of all that was going on, it was great to see someone willing to help rescue somebody else,” Williams said. “It shows that people carry heart and are concerned for other people’s well-being, to see someone put themselves at risk.”

Maj. Chris Franklin organized the outing. He was the Fort McCoy Soldier Readiness Center officer-in-charge at the time.

“I have enjoyed canoeing often, but this was the most treacherous run I’ve seen because of the preceding days’ rain,” Franklin said.” I knew the Kickapoo was a great place to canoe, but the conditions were rough. The river is normally three to five feet deep, so you can walk across it. That day it was three to five feet higher than normal.”

Cox said the Kickapoo incident, “was intense. It was chaos. It was not a novice event.”

Department of Natural Resources rangers later closed the river as the dangerous situation became apparent.

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