KAMAS, Utah (ABC4) – Joe Donell said it was God’s timing that he was out on Smith and Morehouse Reservoir on Monday.
“There’s no way I was gonna leave that boy in that truck, no way, not an option,” said Donell. “If it calls for my life, so be it. I wasn’t gonna leave him.”
The former park ranger and emergency responder said he was kayaking when he saw a family’s truck with three kids inside fall back into the water.
“I noticed a pickup truck just start to go the boat ramp and people chasing after it a lot, yelling and screaming,” Donell said.
According to the Summit County Sheriff’s Office, two nine-year-old boys and a two-year-old girl were inside that sinking truck.
They said one of the boys escaped and the girl’s grandfather rescued the two-year-old just in time, but the other nine-year-old boy was still trapped inside.
That’s when Donell stepped in, even when he could’ve stayed back.
“I mean it was scary,” said Donell. “You know, no visibility, 6, 7, 8 feet underwater, but as a first responder that’s not what you do — you go.”
Donell said he dove down seven times in the freezing water until he reached up inside the truck and felt the boy’s t-shirt.
“I wasn’t gonna stop ’til I found him,” said Donell. “I knew I couldn’t live with myself if I just went to the boat ramps and said, ‘Oh well, wait for the tow truck.’ So I kept diving, so when I finally found him and felt clothing, it was just a big relief.”
He said the boy was under for at least 10-15 minutes. When he got him out, he and others did chest compressions for another 30 minutes until EMTs arrived.
Now, Donell says he and his family are praying as the 9-year-old boy is still in critical condition.
“My family and I are praying every day, every second that he survives. That’s all I want for him — to survive,” said Donell.
Donell said the only thing that matters is making sure the boy is doing well and maybe one day, he can reunite with him again.
If you’d like to donate to the boy’s medical funds, you can find a link here.