Facilities Management Employee Performs River Rescue

Thursday, July 19, was supposed to be a typical afternoon for Radford University Facilities Management employees Sean McDonough, Trey Etheridge and Benjamin Brown.  Grounds supervisor Dan Huckestein had assigned the crew the task of trimming and mowing near Parking Lot Z on the banks of the New River. However, at around 2 p.m., the afternoon turned into anything but typical. McDonough saved a life.

McDonough, an RU sophomore from Richmond who is taking a year off and working for Facilities Management to earn money for college, was working with his fellow employees when he heard a man calling out to him.

"He yelled to me that a lady had fallen out of a tube and wasn't able to swim," McDonough said, recalling that he had heard screaming a few minutes earlier but assumed some people were just having fun. "The man told me they were following the tubers and saw it happen." Adding to the panic was the fact that a 7-year-old child was with the woman.

"I knew there wasn't enough time to call EMS. I took off my shirt, shoes and socks and yelled for the lady and the girl to hang on until I could get to them," McDonough said.  He swam out to the woman and child, grabbed them and brought them back to shore.

Benjamin Brown, Sean McDonough, and Trey Etheridge

RU employee Sean McDonough, center, poses at the New River with his colleagues Trey Etheridge, left, and Benjamin Brown, right. The men were mowing the grass near Parking Lot Z when McDonough answered the call for help from a woman who had fallen of her raft in the river.

The Radford University Police Department and Emergency Medical Services were notified by one of McDonough's colleagues and were on the scene in less than five minutes.  Lt. Mike Baker arrived shortly after Officers Holly Frye, Dee Phillips and Jonathan Angle. "The officers were already in the water by the time I got there," Baker said.

The distance between where the three RU employees were standing to the woman and child was approximately 100 to 150 yards. While McDonough hadn't gone swimming on a regular basis since he was 7 years old, that didn't stop him from springing into action. "I am in pretty good condition but swimming in that current wore me out," he said.

The river is known for having a rapidly changing flow and for its large holes that fishermen and swimmers come upon with no warning, according to Baker, who also noted the activity at the river was heavy that afternoon. "It's a dangerous stretch through that area," said Baker.

Etheridge and Brown had their equipment running and were oblivious to the cries for help.  "I couldn't hear what was going on, but I knew from the looks of things that something had happened," Etheridge said. "Sean did not hesitate one moment to jump in and do what needed to be done."

When the men's supervisor, Huckestein, heard what happened, he wasn't surprised that one of his employees rose to the occasion and literally jumped right in and got to work. "I wouldn't have expected any less of him," Huckestein said, adding that all his employees are dependable when unexpected circumstances arise.

Baker agrees, saying this lifesaving story is a testament to the dedication of Radford University employees. "This situation could have really gotten out of hand. I am very proud of the employees and the officers," said Baker. "Their focus was on what needed to be done. They didn't say 'no.'"

Jul 20, 2012
Bonnie Q. Erickson
(540) 831-5804