Man rescued from Lake Whatcom; taxi driver hailed as hero

A Bellingham taxi driver was being hailed as a hero Sunday after the rescue of a man found apparently clinging to a log in Lake Whatcom.

“I don’t know the name of the taxi driver, but he saved his life and he needs to be recognized,” said Bellingham Fire Capt. Mannix McDonnell, who was EMS supervisor at the incident.

North Whatcom Fire and Rescue and Bellingham firefighters were dispatched just before 8 a.m. Sunday to a report of a man clinging to a log about 500 feet offshore from 3183 Northshore Road, east of Agate Bay.

An ambulance and other Bellingham Fire units were seen leaving the address about 8:30 a.m., traveling with emergency lights activated. A radio dispatch said the man had been underwater for about five minutes.

A visibly shaken man was observed talking to deputies at the scene.

At St. Joseph hospital, McDonnell confirmed that a patient arrived alive. Medical privacy laws prevent McDonnell from discussing the incident further.

Whatcom County Sheriff Bill Elfo said that a Northshore Road resident called the taxi driver, asking for the driver to bring some snacks. Elfo said the resident had been drinking and didn’t want to drive. Elfo said he didn’t know the name of the cab company, but that it may have been a private ride service.

“(The driver) gets to the house and the guy wants to play football,” Elfo said. “The driver just wants his fee.”

Elfo said the resident, described as a 31-year-old man, became agitated and ran toward a dock, where he slipped and fell into the water.

Elfo said that the man was described as normally a capable swimmer, but that he began to struggle in the cold water. Light rain was falling with an air temperature about 50 degrees. The cab driver called 911, and then went to help, Elfo said.

“He puts down his cell and got in a paddle boat that was at the dock,” Elfo said. “(The victim) was gurgling. (The driver) basically saved his life.”

Bellingham Fire Battalion Chief Cary Gustafson said several water rescue units were dispatched to what at first sounded like a water rescue.

“When Aid 12 and Medic 1 arrived, the patient was already out of the water,” Gustafson said. “Aid 12, Medic 1 and EMS 1, those units started providing care when they arrived. The patient was treated at the scene and transported in critical condition.”

Robert Mittendorf: 360-756-2805, @BhamMitty