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'I didn't want to see him die'

Teen credited for saving boy's life after fall into Spirit Lake

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JEROME A. POLLOS/Press

Jason Cole is recognized by Hilary Howard, the Spirit Lake Park and Recreation activity director, during an assembly Monday at New Visions High School In Post Falls. Cole saved an 8-year-old boy who fell through the ice at Spirit Lake on January 27. 

Updated

Jason Cole sensed danger even before a Rathdrum boy fell into frigid Spirit Lake.

When Cole saw the 8-year-old beating the edge of the thin ice with a plastic baseball bat during Spirit Lake's Winter Fun Festival, he ran out toward the boy on the ice.

"I didn't want to see him die," said Cole, a sophomore at New Vision High School in Post Falls.

Cole's instincts were correct.

The boy fell into the lake in an area that was about 5 feet deep. Shortly thereafter, Cole jumped in and rescued the boy by pushing him out onto the ice.

"He kept going under the water and coming back up," Spirit Lake resident Doug Freeland said of the victim, adding that the depth of the water was over his head. "He would have drowned - guaranteed.

"If he would have gone under the ice, nobody would have been there fast enough to save him."

Freeland estimated the temperature of the lake at 42 degrees when the incident occurred on Jan. 27.

Cole was honored on Monday for his actions by the Spirit Lake Parks and Recreation Department during a ceremony at his school.

The department gave Cole $150 to go toward replacing an iPod that was destroyed during the rescue, while Miller's Harvest Foods chipped in $25. His cell phone worked after the incident despite getting soaked.

"I threw off my Lakers hat, but everything else went in," the soft-spoken Cole said.

Bystanders said the victim, along with two other youth, had been repeatedly warned about the thin ice before the fall.

The school ceremony surprised Cole and he only told relatives, acquaintances and event organizers about the rescue when he was asked. He also didn't tell anyone at school.

Organizers recalled a drenched teen who rescued the boy walking away from the lake and only learned later who it was by word of mouth.

"I was ready to get mad at him (for getting wet)," said Serena Baldwin, Cole's mother, before she realized what happened.

Those who attended the school ceremony didn't know the victim's name. They said the family was rightfully focused on getting the boy dry and warm afterward and was encouraged to do so by bystanders.

Cole, who is leaning toward joining the military after high school, has an others-before-self mentality, said Cathy Kirk, his grandmother.

"He has a good heart," Kirk said. "He has a big brother attitude."

Event organizers said the festival is expected to continue in the future because the victim and other kids had been warned about the ice.

They said that portion of the lake may be taped off as another warning if the ice isn't safe or the event will be held farther away from the lake, however. The festival's events on the ice had been called off.

"This isn't the event's fault," Freeland said. "This kid wandered too far away and was too close to the open water."

Hilary Howard, Spirit Lake's parks and recreation director, said the community is still reeling from two other youth deaths on the lake in the past year.

She said Cole's actions prevented further heartbreak.

"He prevented another tragedy," Howard said. "He took off on his own. He's a hero."

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JEROME A. POLLOS/Press

Jason Cole is recognized by Hilary Howard, the Spirit Lake Park and Recreation activity director, during an assembly Monday at New Visions High School In Post Falls. Cole saved an 8-year-old boy who fell through the ice at Spirit Lake on January 27.