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Woman reunited with officers who saved her from freezing waters of Detroit River

Ethel Woodger was pregnant at time of Detroit River rescue

DETROIT – A woman who was pregnant last month when two police officers and a paramedic saved her from the Detroit River spoke with Local 4 about what happened.

"It was a night to not want to remember," Ethel Woodger said.

Sitting around a conference table with the people who saved her life, Woodger said she has a new appreciation for the men and women who risk their lives for others.

"They're risking their lives just for me and my child," Woodger said. "It was amazing. It was a blessing."

Woodger was walking April 17 along the Detroit River in Riverside Park when she fell into the freezing waters and couldn't get out. A bystander threw her a coat to hang onto and tried to pull her out with a tree branch, but it didn't work.

Officers Brian Gadwell and Steve Rauser were there within minutes.

"She started to slip," Gadwell said. "We were trying to rip my gear off. I got the heavy stuff off. When she started going under, at that point I had to jump in. It was cold."

The freezing water and the rough current were too much, even for Gadwell. After struggling to keep Woodger above water, he too began to lose strength.

"That's when I looked at my partner and was like, 'Man, I'm going in. I can't hang on any more,'" Gadwell said. "He jumped in and saved me."

Paramedic Chris Ward jumped into the water as well, and a boating crew from the J.W. Westcott pulled up just in time.

"The fire department tied a life line around me, I jumped in the water and was able to get her head and her arm through the life preserver, and they were able to pull us both over to the boat," Ward said.

Woodger had an emergency cesarean section that night and now has a beautiful, healthy baby boy. She said he and her two other children were all she could think of.

"I have two other children besides the one I gave birth to," Woodger said. "I knew I couldn't leave the kids with no mother."

Detroit Fire Commissioner Eric Jones said the department has ordered flotation devices for all river-based stations, hoping to prevent something like this from happening in the future.


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