Ian Freeman was fishing at about 7:20 p.m. Sunday on the north bank of the Boise River when an empty raft floated by.
The raft was in a section of the river, about a mile west of the North Glenwood Street bridge in Garden City, that is not typically used by floaters. He looked back and saw a woman pinned against a beaver dam 20 yards away.
“I threw my fishing pole down and went across the river. When I got to her, her head was facing downstream and her face was submerged in the water,” said Freeman, who lives in Boise.
He thought she was dead. “Then she coughed and kind of threw up, and I realized she was still alive,” Freeman said.
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Dawn Jones-Pickett heard Freemen yell. Jones-Pickett was with a group of seven on the river’s south bank. She dialed 911. Matthew Martin, a member of Jones-Pickett’s group, and several friends went to help Freeman.
“I helped him lift her up. It took four of us to do that,” Martin said. “She was in a lot of pain.”
Freeman said he was unable to get the woman to give him her name or tell him what day it was. “She couldn’t talk. She kind of moved her mouth a little, but that was about it,” he said.
Garden City police and Boise and Eagle firefighters arrived shortly after the woman regained consciousness. The woman, her husband and their two sons were floating the river. They say the woman found herself in trouble after she jumped in the water to rescue her 15-year-old son.
The woman’s brother, who asked to remain anonymous because the Boise family has not been publicly identified, said the son got caught under a log on the beaver dam. He tweaked his knee and suffered scratches to his back. He was released from the hospital later Sunday.
His mother swallowed a lot of water before she was rescued. She received scratches to her face, back and legs but did not suffer any broken bones, her brother said. He expects her to spend one more night in the hospital before being released Tuesday. Doctors want to continue monitoring her, he said.
Another son, 12, who was in the same raft was not injured. Neither was the father, who was floating on a tube on a different section of the river.
Neither the mother nor her 15-year-old son were wearing flotation devices. “If they had them, they probably would have been OK,” the mother’s brother said.
‘DANGEROUS’ STRETCH OF RIVER
The city’s designated float zone is between Barber Park and Ann Morrison Park. While floating is not prohibited in other areas, it is “float at your own risk,” said Scott Koberg, director of Ada County Parks & Waterways.
That’s in part due to obstacles. Authorities sweep the designated stretch of the river for debris before the official float season begins in June, and they monitor it until the season ends after Labor Day. Other river sections do not receive that much attention.
Floaters should wear a life vest or other personal flotation device, and take care to avoid tree branches and other obstacles while on the river, Koberg said. He echoed Boise Fire spokeswoman Tammy Barry, who Sunday urged floaters to be prepared for river conditions and wary of the current.
Under Idaho law, floaters 14 and younger must wear flotation devices. Rafts and other vessels must have vests or other devices for each passenger, although those 15 and older are not required to wear them.
Freeman, Jones-Pickett and Martin, all longtime river users, said they don’t recommend people float in that stretch of the river. They say it is full of logs, beaver dams and other obstacles, including a downed 40-foot tree that was just upriver from where the woman was found.
“It’s a pretty rough patch,” Jones-Pickett said.
“If you don’t know what you’re doing, you can get into trouble,” Martin said.
Freeman, Martin and Jones-Pickett downplayed their roles in the rescue, saying they did what anyone would have done under the circumstances. They said they were glad to help.
“It was definitely a group effort,” Martin said.
Koberg said accidents like the one Sunday should not discourage people from floating other stretches of the river.