BLOOMINGTON — A 69-year old Bloomington man who uses a wheelchair jumped into
Miller Park Lake and to save his great-grandson who fell into the water Monday evening.
“It was an act of heroism,” Bloomington firefighter Lance Benedict said. “If he hadn’t jumped in, the little boy could have drowned."
Gary White was fishing with his young granddaughter and young great-grandson around 6 p.m. when the boy lost his balance on the rock wall of the lake and tumbled into the water.
The boy, who stands a little more than 3 feet tall, was unable to get his footing on the rocks at the bottom of the
lake, which is about 3 to 4 feet deep on the north bank near the pedestrian bridge.
“I saw him go in and go down twice,” White said. “I had made up my mind that if he was going down, I was, too.”
White dived into the lake from his wheelchair, which he uses because neuropathy, degenerative back disease and knee problems limit his mobility.
“I can swim, but with the rocks being as slick as what they were, I had a difficult time standing,” White said.
White was able to kneel and cradle the boy in his arms to keep him out of the water, said Truc Ly of Bloomington, who was having a picnic with her family nearby.
“His little granddaughter came rushing over to our table and I called 911 for her,” she said.
White was unable to climb the steep bank to bring the boy out of the water, said Benedict.
In the meanwhile, Robert Howard of Bloomington saw people rush to help White.
"I didn't really think about it," Howard said. "I just jumped in without thinking."
Howard, another man and a woman came to lift the boy out of White’s arms and comfort White until firefighters were able to get him out of the water.
"They put a ladder in the water," Howard said. "The firefighter in the water with me and I walked him out of the water up the ladder."
Firefighters helped roll White in his wheelchair up the path along the lake and into into a waiting car.
White complained of scraped knees but said his great-grandson was uninjured.
Zoo director Jay Tetzloff watches a southern tamandua explore her environment in the tropical rainforest exhibit Tuesday, Jan. 8, 2019, at Miller Park Zoo. The lesser anteater is common across Central and South America. Their tongue, designed to capture ants, is 16 inches long.
Miller Park Zoo exhibits
Miller Park Zoo offers opportunities for the whole family to explore its many exhibits and interact with zookeepers. Indoor and outdoor exhibits feature many of your favorite animals, and offer learning opportunities as well.
Miller Park zookeeper Wendy Klessig is dressed for the temperature of minus 10 as she feeds the zoo's river otters fresh fish Wednesday, Jan. 30, 2019. The extreme temperatures are fine with the otters, who are quite happy to swim and play in the snow.
Miller Park Zookeeper Wendy Klessig is dressed for minus 10 degree temperatures as she feeds the zoo's river otters fresh fish Wednesday, Jan. 30, 2019. The extreme temperatures are fine with the otters, who are quite happy to swim and play in the snow.
A river otter lunches on a fresh fish after taking a swim in a pool at the Miller Park Zoo Wednesday, Jan. 30, 2019. The minus 10 degree temperatures didn't seem to bother him.
A river otter gobbles down a fresh fish while taking a swim in a pool Wednesday, Jan. 30, 2019, at Miller Park Zoo in Bloomington. The minus 10 temperature didn't seem to bother him.
A Purrfect Day
A Pallas' cat at Miller Park Zoo enjoyed a brisk minus 10 degrees Wednesday, Jan. 30, 2019. He was among many animals who weren't bothered by the cold.
A red panda looked forward to dinner while exploring a branch in its exhibit at Miller Park Zoo. The minus 10 degree temperatures Wednesday, Jan. 30, 2019, didn't seem to bother him.
The Miller Park Zoo's guanaco was no strange to minus 10 degree weather as it is native to mountainous regions in southern Chile.
A pair of female North American river otters born in February 2017 can be seen at the Miller Park Zoo, Bloomington. They currently are separated from their mother, who is isolated with two male pups.
Two Tammar wallabies graze Wednesday, June 21, 2017 in their exhibit area at the Miller Park Zoo, Bloomington.
North American river otters wrestling
North American river otters at Miller Park Zoo in Bloomington tussle in the snow Thursday, December 28, 2017 in their exhibit while their mother, Tallulah, keeps watch. The zoo staff said the otters enjoy the snow and colder temperatures.
Max the Amazon parrot
Chris ''The Mayor of Miller Park'' Riddle talks to ''Max,'' an Amazon parrot, In the tropical rain forest exhibit during the Zoo's 125th anniversary celebration in 2016.
Simon and River
Simon and River are San Clemente goats on display at Miller Park Zoo, Bloomington. They were born March 20, 2016.
The snow leopard cubs at Miller Park Zoo painted art that was raffled off during the 2016 Zoo Do fundraiser.
Clown fish in its home
A clown fish swims in a saltwater aquarium at the Zoo Lab at Miller Park Zoo in Bloomington.
Henry the artist
Henry, a salmon-crested cockatoo at Miller Park Zoo, creates artwork that will be auctioned during the zoo's annual major fundraiser, Zoo Do, on Saturday, September 23, 2017.
New Flamingo display
Flamingos on display at Miller Park Zoo are part of the reason for increases in attendance and revenue at the zoo.
Miller Park Zoo curator Jonathan Reding holds a Panamanian Golden Frog at the Miller Park Zoo in Bloomington in January 2014.
Temporary King vultures on display
Two king vultures are on exhibition at the Miller Park Zoo Thursday, May 21, 2015. They are on temporary loan from the River Banks Zoo in Columbus, S.C.
Flamingos welcome visitors at Miller Park Zoo, Bloomington. Their exhibit opened in June 2016.
A bird in hand
Erik Heinonen, a Miller Park Zoo zookeeper, describes feeding tips for Budgie parakeet's to Amy Knauf and her daughter Josey Knauf, 10, of Bloomington while visiting the Zoo Lab building on Wednesday, August 10, 2016.
Happy in winter
Reindeer have a thick coat and are quite happy in sub-zero weather, Tuesday, Jan. 7, 2014, at Miller Park Zoo. (The Pantagraph, David Proeber)
Kash makes his NFL picks
Kash, the Miller Park Zoo sea lion, picks the Chicago Bears over the Philadelphia Eagles as he makes his Week 2 NFL picks on Wednesday, September 14, 2016. Kash went 10-6 in the opening week.
Neecee and Sabrina
Neecee, right, and Sabrina prowl Tuesday, February 23, 2016 in their Miller Park Zoo enclosure. Jay Tetzloff, director of Bloomington's Parks, Recreation and Cultural Arts Department, said they use their large tails to help them balance when walking along cliffs in the mountain ranges of central and south Asia.
A snow leopard looks for dinner at the Miller Park Zoo.
Longhorn steer Lord Antioch with handler Grace Mitchell was just one of the many animals on display at the annual Miller Park Zoo Zoo Do on Saturday, September 24, 2016.
Heran the Sumatran tiger
On a languid summer's afternoon, try to out-stare the Sumatran tiger -- his name is Heran -- at Miller Park Zoo.
Rojo has joined the Miller Park Zoo.
A Tammar wallaby with three joeys in its pouch can be seen at Miller Park Zoo.
A Miller Park Zoo wallaroo and her joey (Aug. 14, 2013).