A Bellingham Herald newspaper carrier is being credited with saving the life of a coworker whose car was trapped in raging floodwaters from the Nooksack River in the freezing predawn hours of Saturday morning, Nov. 29.
Dennis Depraw, 81, was discharged from St. Joseph hospital early Sunday, Nov. 30, where he was treated for hypothermia Saturday and held for observation. He was unavailable to talk Sunday, but his Herald coworkers said he was well.
Depraw, a carrier for about 13 years, became stranded in floodwaters as he searched for a delivery address near the Ten Mile Creek bridge on Barrett Road east of Ferndale, about 200 yards south of the Nooksack, said Herald circulation department worker Geary Gresham. Ferndale Police officer Josh Scott and Whatcom County sheriff’s deputy Michael King assisted in the rescue, Gresham and others said.
“(Depraw) didn’t realize that there was that much water,” Gresham said. “ He was already too deep when his car started to float.”
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Gresham said Depraw’s car was swept off the road and came to rest with its driver’s-side door pinned against a sign post.
“(The water) was pushing against his door and starting to fill his car. He was so cold, he couldn’t get out,” Gresham said. Temperatures dipped into the low 20s overnight as brisk Canadian air pushed south into Western Washington.
Desperate, Depraw phoned the Herald circulation office, whose employees called 911 and told him to stay with his car. Gresham and Herald carrier Gary Spurling ran to their cars and sped north on Interstate 5 toward where Depraw was trapped.
Spurling, 40, who was an Army medic in the 1990s, said he arrived first and waded through waist-deep water to Depraw’s car.
“Dennis was floating away in his car. (A 911 dispatcher) actually wanted to talk to him. I told 911 to send an ambulance, he couldn’t wait any longer,” Spurling said.
Spurling said he told Depraw to roll his window down and eased him out through the opening.
“I put him on my back and we swam the first couple of feet until I could get my footing,” Spurling said.
Scott and King arrived in their patrol cars and assisted the last few feet of the rescue, followed by Gresham and Whatcom County Fire District 7 firefighters.
Whatcom County Sheriff Bill Elfo praised everyone’s heroism and commended King for radioing Ferndale Police for assistance when he realized their units were closer to the incident.
“We’re very proud of everyone in what was rapidly evolving circumstances,” Elfo said.
“It was so cold that they had icicles on their clothes when they came out of the water,” Gresham said. “(Depraw) is pretty spry for 81, but the cold takes you. If that signpost hadn’t been there, they’d have been gone.
“I’m really glad that Gary got there first,” Gresham said. “I’m not sure that I could have done what he did.”