SALT LAKE CITY — Salt Lake police officer Kris Smith was the third officer to arrive at the Jordan River canal where a child was trapped in a car underwater.
He arrived just as a Salt Lake firefighter was carrying 15-year-old Justin Bates to shore.
“He was not breathing. There were no signs of life. I started CPR on him and kept doing CPR until another firetruck showed up,” Smith recalled.
In a screenshot taken from body camera footage, police and firefighters work to rescue two children, 2 and 15 years old, from a vehicle that crashed into the Jordan River on Saturday, Aug. 8, 2020. One of the children has died, police announced Monday.Salt Lake City Police Department
He then went back into the dark, murky water to help find a 2-year-old girl still trapped in the vehicle. When a Salt Lake firefighter found the girl and brought her to the surface, he handed the girl to Smith, who took her to the canal bank and handed her off to medical crews.
Smith knows that all first responders on scene that night gave the victims their best possible chance for survival. And because of the hours of training police undergo, he was prepared physically to handle the chaotic situation.
But nothing could have prepared him mentally for what he encountered that night.
“Especially with kids, there’s no training that can prepare you for dealing with kids who are sick and injured. That hits way closer to home,” said Smith, who still had emotion in his voice as he recalled the crash and rescue operation two days later.
“It makes my heart hurt. This hits a lot closer to home than any of the other calls in 12 years I’ve done.”
Salt Lake police officer R.T., who was also on scene that night, concurred that for as many times as she’s played the “what if” game in her head about the types of scenarios she may be called to, “Nothing prepares you to save a kid in an underwater car.”
The Deseret News talked to several officers who were involved in the dramatic rescue on Saturday of Justin and the 2-year-old girl. Justin was transported to a hospital but later died from his injuries.
But police say they did everything they possibly could to save the children.
The accident happened about 11 p.m. near Indiana Avenue and Delong Street. A 20-year-old woman driving a Dodge Caliber was headed west on Indiana Avenue and attempted to make a right turn onto Delong when she missed the curve and went into the Jordan River. Excessive speed is believed to be a contributing factor in the crash.
The driver and two teenage boys, 16 and 17, were able to get out and swim to shore. Justin and the 2-year-old had to be extricated by first responders.
A family member says Justin had initially made it out of the vehicle but went back to try and help the 2-year-old.
There were also reports that someone who was in a nearby motor home when the car went into the canal was the first person to jump into the water to help and may have been the first to reach Justin. Smith was unsure whether the civilian or the firefighter pulled the tee