Two young heroes employed at the Best Western Hood River Inn took fast action at the Columbia River on Tuesday around 1:25 p.m., pulling a 77-year-old man to safety from frigid river water. The victim’s family has requested his name be withheld.
According to Raquel VanNatta, revenue manager for the Best Western, two employees, Joey Soto, 23, and Cory Gross, 17, were working on a third-floor guestroom re-carpeting project in the hotel’s west wing when they witnessed the man fall from the hotel dock into the water.
Soto and Gross had been watching the man stroll along the dock, located in water about 10-15 feet deep with a temperature at estimated to be about 39 degrees.
“I saw him go into the water,” said Soto. “I thought maybe he had broken an ankle or something. I could see his head was bobbing up and down and he was trying to hold onto the dock.”
“I went onto the balcony and started calling down to him, asking if he was okay,” said Gross. “He didn’t respond and wasn’t looking at us.”
The young men then saw the man begin flailing and struggling to hold onto the side of the dock. The duo didn’t hesitate. They flew down two flights of stairs and a steep riverbank to reach him.
“By the time we got there, he had pulled himself over to the rocky edge of the river,” said Gross. The pair then hauled him up out of the water, across the large sharp boulders and up the slope.
“We reacted — we were just trying to help him out,” said Soto. “I was worried because I could see that he was an older guy.”
“He was a fully clothed adult man and soaking wet. It must have been pretty difficult to pull someone out like that. There was probably a lot of adrenaline going,” said General Manager Chuck Hinman. “We are very proud of them.”
Soto and Gross then helped the man into a nearby laundry area where they used hot sheets and blankets to warm the victim.
“We got him seated and comfortable,” said Gross. “He kept saying how sorry he was.”
The young men were then assisted by “Sparky” Sparks, the hotel receiving manager. Front Desk Manager Ryan Huntington was called in to help and he then phoned paramedics.
Once it was clear to everyone that the man was stable, Gross and Soto returned to work while Sparks and Huntington waited until the paramedics arrived.
According to Hood River Fire Chief Devon Wells, paramedics were on the scene at 1:40 p.m. finding the man alert and responsive. The man’s daughter was also on scene and declined transportation — deciding to take him to the hospital herself for evaluation.
“He stated that he slipped into the water,” said Wells. “Since we did not need to transport him, we left shortly thereafter.”
Gross has worked for the hotel for close to three years, according to VanNatta. Soto has been employed since June 2012. Both young men work in multiple departments including maintenance — the job they were working on at the time of the event.
“We want to express a huge, heartfelt, and appreciative thank you to Cory and Joey, for their quick actions and selfless act of heroism. We, and your community, appreciate them,” posted the Best Western staff on the Inn’s Facebook page.
“They are just great young men and examples of the kind of young people we are lucky enough to employ from Hood River and the Gorge,” said Hinman.