Actions of civilians, officers recognized
Anthony Scott Johnson said he really shouldn't have been in Levee Park on May 29.
The 32-year-old Farmington resident said the only reason he was near the Mississippi River that day was to make up for a missed dinner reservation at the St. James Hotel caused by a January snowstorm.
It was something he and his girlfriend Kelly Lillidahl decided to make up on their Memorial Day weekend visit to Red Wing. After lunch at the hotel, and finding nothing to occupy their time in the downtown stores, the couple settled on a walk near the water.
"There were 100 reasons why we shouldn't have been by the river," he said.
But for Johnson, and for four others - Geno Morelli, Elizabeth Wondrow and Stephen and Tomi Wilson - being in Levee Park on the afternoon of May 29 proved to be a "right place at the right time" type of scenario.
That's because all five, along with six Red Wing police officers and paramedics, played integral roles in saving the life of Oscar Haddorff, who had jumped in the river in a suicide attempt.
"Because of their efforts I am still here and I want to live out my remaining years," Haddorff said in a statement to the Red Wing City Council Monday night.
Johnson said he and Lillidahl were near the train tracks when they heard a man and woman - who he later learned were Morelli and Wondrow - screaming.
Morelli had been fishing from shore near Red Wing Grain when he had first spotted Haddorff in the water. He ran along shore, keeping an eye on the floating man and tracking him in the current.
"They started raising their voices (at Hardorff), saying 'Sir, Sir?'" Johnson said.
Haddorff was floating in the river about 50 feet off the bank. He was unconscious and not moving and his body was vertical, with just his head sticking out, Johnson said.
"When I saw him, that's when I took off," he said. Lillidahl said by the time she turned back to her boyfriend, he had already taken his shoes off and was running towards the water.
"It was the easiest decision I ever made," Johnson said. But, he added, actually getting Haddorff out of the water was the hardest thing he had ever done.
"Everything I thought of went wrong," he said. Johnson had never swum in a river before, and he said he had underestimated both the strength of the current and the cold temperature of the water.
While Johnson was swimming and Wondrow and Morelli were tracking both men's locations, Tomi and Stephen Wilson were on shore calling 911.
By the time Johnson reached Haddorff, he said he wasn't sure whether the floating man was still alive. Still, he said, he wasn't going back to shore without Haddorff.
But accomplishing that goal proved to be a much harder task than Johnson had previously thought.
"I was grunting, screaming, swearing. It felt like we were just going downstream and I was getting extremely tired and cold," Johnson said. "If it was not for Geno and Elizabeth screaming at me from the land not to give up and not to quit, I don't know if either of us would have made it out of the river," Johnson said.
Eventually, Johnson maneuvered Haddorff close to shore and Morelli helped pull the men from the water. Wondrow immediately began CPR on Haddorff while Johnson laid on the ground nearby, coughing up water.
"I was shaking," Johnson said.
Just a couple minutes later, police investigator Tony Grosso and officers Jeff Burbank and Keegan Quinn arrived on scene and took over for Wondrow.
Captain Scott Will and firefighter/paramedics Josh Johnholtz and Cory Ahern also assisted.
Haddorff was eventually airlifted to St. Mary's Hospital in Rochester where he recovered.
"Without (everyone's) bravery and unselfishness, I would not still be here alive today," Haddorff said.
Johnson, Morelli, Wondrow, the Wilsons and the six officers and paramedics were honored during Monday's City Council meeting and each were presented with a plaque describing their actions on May 29.