Marine recounts Lake Michigan rescue story
By Tony Graf firstname.lastname@example.org June 19, 2012 1:17PM
Marine 2nd Lt. Nicholas Dominguez, a Lockport native,on Monday rescued a woman in Lake Michigan off the Indiana coast. | Provided Photo~Sun-Times Media ptmet
Updated: June 19, 2012 9:45PM
BEVERLY SHORES— A U.S. Marine from Lockport, Ill., saved the life of a woman struggling in the waters of Lake Michigan, and then swam out deeper in search of her friend.
Marine 2nd Lt. Nicholas Dominguez saved Eveyln Hernandez and brought her to safety on a sand bar in the lake on Monday. Hernandez and her friend had become separated from their raft off the coast.
Dominguez, 22, is a recent graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, and had been commissioned a Marine second lieutenant on Friday. He is a graduate of Lockport Township High School and Will County District 92, having attended Oak Prairie Junior High School in Homer Glen, Ill. and Ludwig School in Lockport.
Dominguez’s mother, Jeanne Dominguez of Lockport, swam out to help her son during his rescue effort. She was able to assist Hernandez and then assist in the search for Hernandez’s friend, Leonel Dominguez, 31, of New York City, who is not related to the Lockport family.
On Monday, Evelyn Hernandez and Leonel Dominguez were visiting Hernandez’s sister in Beverly Shores.
Around 3 p.m., Leonel and Evelyn paddled an inflatable boat raft out into Lake Michigan east of Lake View Beach in the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore. When they were at least 100 feet from shore, Evelyn told Leonel that she wanted to go back to the beach, so he jumped into the water and attempted to tow the boat back to shore by swimming.
Winds were gusting around 35 mph, and Leonel was not making much headway and getting tired. He tried to get back into the raft, but the wind caused it to flip and eject Evelyn. The raft quickly floated away, so the pair had to swim back to the beach.
The Lockport mother and son — Jeanne and Nicholas — were on the beach. They had come to Beverly Shores on Monday to visit Jeanne’s former neighbors. Jeanne grew up in the area.
“We were just on the beach on a sunny day with our dogs,” Nicholas said.
“I’m not sure at what point we noticed the raft floating, because we were playing with the dogs and all that,” he said. “We saw when it was tipped over and kind of blowing in the wind. And we could see the two swimmers who were out there. We were watching them.”
“I wanted to just go in and see if they needed help. I’m fairly confident in my ability. I wasn’t worried about how far out it was,” Nicholas said.
He did not believe they were in great danger. He just wanted to help them out.
“I don’t know if I said anything, but I just handed my mom my sunglasses, and made for the water.”
Nicholas swam for the person who was closest to him.
“When I was out there, I couldn’t really see very far, because you were neck deep in the waves. But when I was finally able to see her, I yelled that I was coming and that’s when she started yelling: ‘Help me, help me, I’m exhausted.’ I got to her and grabbed her around the waist and took her back to a sand bar where she could stand.
Jeanne swam out to help her son.
“At that point, my mom had already come in after me,” Nicholas said. “My mom, she was worried for me, so she followed me after a while.”
“She was still a little ways away. But I left Evelyn on the sand bar, and was going to find the second person. So I told her to wait here — my mom was coming to help her.”
Search for Leonel
“I turned and I swam back deeper, to where I had last seen Leo. The last time I saw him was when I was still on the shore,” Nicholas said.
“When I swam deeper, I didn’t see him. We were yelling his name. So I swam deeper out. And it never occurred to me that he would go under. I just thought that he had drifted further away with the current.”
A Coast Guard boat arrived on the scene, and Nicholas backed off, not wanting to interfere.
“So I swam back to the sand bar, and I still was walking along the sand bar, looking, yelling his name,” Nicholas said. “And then a couple of more boats came. And I was pretty far out from where we started, and it wasn’t until I saw the divers come out — and I could make out their scuba tanks — that I came back in.”
After Evelyn was able to return to shore, Jeanne helped her son in the search for Leonel.
“My mom followed me along the sandbar, while I was deeper out. She wanted to make sure she didn’t lose sight of me, and we were both yelling.”