Joy ride turns to rescue

By A.J. Hoffman Courier Staff Writer
Tuesday, July 8, 2008 11:35 PM EDT

When Margeaux Leakas, 16, of Dayton, Ohio, and her friend Lacey Flanigan (left), 17, of St. Louis, Mo. decided to meet their friend and go for a ride in Flanigan’s jet-ski, they saw something that didn’t look right. Their joy ride quickly turned to a rescue.

When they saw a dinghy circling around in the middle of the lake with no one in the driver’s seat, they knew there was something wrong.

When Margeaux Leakas, 16, of Dayton, Ohio, and her friend Lacey Flanigan, 17, of St. Louis, Mo. decided to meet their friend and go for a ride in Flanigan’s jet-ski, they saw something that didn’t look right.

“People were just standing on their docks, pointing to the water. All those people had bigger boats or yachts, so they couldn’t really do anything,” said Flanigan “I mean, by the time they would have gotten themselves untied and started up, it would have been too late. So, we just booked it over there.”

What the people on the dock saw was a drowning man.
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“We could see a man in a bright blue shirt from where we were, and he was just throwing his arms around everywhere,” said Leakas.

The man in distress, Robert Leitz, 62, of Sister Bay, Wisc., was not wearing a life-jacket.

“I figured it wasn’t going to be a very long trip, and I could see my friend’s boat from where I was,” he said. “I was going to visit a friend of mine on the other side of the lake, so I kind of had my guard down.”

According to Leitz, he was only about 100 yards off of the municipal dock when he took the throttle of the boat and throttled up.

“All of a sudden, the boat jumped out from under me,” he said.

Leitz, who claims to be a pretty good swimmer, and has been involved with boating for over 30 years, said he just made a stupid mistake.

“My first instinct was to try to catch up to the dinghy because at the time it was just idling away from me,” he said. “The water was so cold though and I was losing strength as I was trying to catch up to it.”

Leitz said someone told him the water was 52 degrees when he fell in. Anything less than 70 degrees can induce hypothermia.

“I was in the water for about four or five minutes. If those girls hadn’t gotten to me in time, I think I would have lost consciousness,” said Leitz.

Leitz’s only hope was the two girls on the jet-ski who were still out of reach at that point.

As he was fighting to keep his head above water, the dinghy was coming back at him.

“I knew there was nothing I could do, so I lifted my arm up to try to knock the boat out of the way,” Leitz said. “The next thing I knew, I was looking at the bottom of the dinghy.”

The propellor of the dinghy sliced his ear and a part of his shoulder, leaving him in need of approximately seven stitches in his ear.

When the girls got to the scene, they saw Leitz bleeding and flailing around in the water.

One of the girls threw him her life-jacket but Leitz didn’t respond to it. So, Leakas decided to jump in the water and save him herself.

Flanigan was not only steering the jet-ski, but she was tied to it as well, so this left Leakas to saving the man’s life.

The 135 pound Leakas was somehow able to swim the 250 to 300 pound Leitz to safety by getting him to a nearby boat that was on its way.

“There was a family on that boat, and the father kind of helped me lift him up onto their boat,” Leakas said. “From there, the family covered the man’s face with a towel because that’s where the bleeding was coming from; then they headed to Ward’s to get the man to a hospital.”

After Leakas got back on the jet-ski, the girls located the out-of-control dinghy. Flanigan jumped on the small boat, which had run into a moored sailboat, and hit the killswitch.

Later in the day, the girls met the man they saved, and his wife, at the hospital.

“Both he and his wife gave us a great big hug and they just kept saying ‘thank you, thank you, thank you.’ They were incredibly grateful towards us,” Flanigan said. “It’s so weird: Last summer, I rode the jet-ski around and used it for fun all season long; This year, I used it to save somebody’s life.”

Leakas said the event was all a blur.

“I had never taken any life-saving classes before,” she said. “The water was freezing, and I don’t even know how I was able to do it. I can hardly remember how I swam with him.”

Leakas added, “He was moving around everywhere and I think I just put my arm around his chest or over his shoulder to get him over to that family’s boat.”

Ann Denison, Leakas’ grandmother, was the first to receive the girl following her heroic action.

“She just came home to me and didn’t say anything. She was just shaking,” Denison said. “When I asked her what was wrong, she said, ‘I just saved a man’s life.’ You could tell she was in shock.”

She added, “I told her, ‘you should feel lucky, not everyone gets the chance to save somebody’s life.’”

Both of the girls work as camp counselors at the Belvedere, where they’ll be living for the summer.

“They really are very amazing girls,” Denison said. “They did the right thing and I’m very proud of them.”