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NEWPORT, Maine — Police and fire officials are crediting a group of people gathered at a local camp Saturday night for helping to save the lives of a family that broke through the ice on an ATV during the 2013 Dysarts Snowmobile Ride-in celebration.
Owen Cooper, 58, of Brewer, Olivia Pietila, 27, of Newport and Pietila’s three daughters, ages 6, 7, and 9, were riding a Rhino side-by-side ATV on Sebasticook Lake around 6:30 p.m., on their way to get a better view of the fireworks display, Newport Police Chief Leonard Macdaid said Monday. They didn’t see a patch of open water ahead of them as they approached Barrows Point, the chief said.
Tim Bisson of Harpswell, who owns a camp on Barrows Point Road, was celebrating the ride-in with about 25 friends. He watched the ATV as it approached the point, where the water wasn’t frozen over.
“Tim was nervous about that vehicle being out there,” said Douglas Colson, 42, of Plymouth, one of the attendees of the party at Bisson’s camp. Bisson watched the ATV go into the open water about 300-400 feet from the camp. Bisson shouted that the vehicle had gone through and the partygoers jumped into action.
“One person grabbed a rope, so I grabbed a ladder and we ran out there on a four-wheeler,” Colson, a heavy equipment operator, said Monday afternoon. “You could see right where the ice was safe and where it wasn’t safe.”
Pietila and the three girls were able to get out of the water before the crew of rescuers arrived, but Cooper struggled to escape the water.
“I slipped the ladder out and had him grab hold of it,” but Cooper couldn’t hold on, so Colson laid down and grabbed onto him and helped him hold onto the ladder. Several people grabbed the other end of the ladder, struggling to find enough traction to pull the man out.
Soon, the group was able to slide Cooper onto the ice.
“I helped him stand up and got him back to camp,” Colson said. “He was in there the longest and he was really, really shivering.”
Colson estimated that Cooper may have been in the water for about 3 minutes, but said it was hard to keep track of time in all the chaos.
The group from the camp took the family inside and had them remove their wet clothing and wrap up in blankets.
“Everyone kind of chipped in and got them all covered up,” Colson said. “I’m just glad they’re alright.”
Colson said his wife, Jennifer, held one of the girls, wrapped up in a blanket on her lap, to help the girl warm up. Others bustled in and out of the building, helping the family as they could.
Police and fire crews arrived minutes after the 911 call, which originally said a truck had broken through the ice. Cooper was taken by ambulance to Sebasticook Valley Hospital in Pittsfield as a precaution, according to Assistant Fire Chief Rick Turner. The grandmother of the three young girls drove them to the hospital to be checked out, he said. Turner wasn’t sure whether Pietila was treated at the hospital as well.
Game wardens also responded to the call. Macdaid said the ATV was pulled from the water on Sunday.
Macdaid said the group of rescuers did a “fantastic” job. Turner also credited the rescuers for their quick actions, as seconds can make all the difference in freezing water.