When he saw the little boy floundering in the freezing water, maybe James R. Jenkins thought of his own young son. Maybe he didn't think at all before running into the pond to try to save the 5-year-old who had fallen through the ice.
When he saw the little boy floundering in the freezing water, maybe James R. Jenkins thought of his own young son.
Maybe he didn’t think at all before running into the pond to try to save the 5-year-old who had fallen through the ice.
Jenkins, 30, was on his way home with his girlfriend, driving by the pond at the Eastland on the Lake Apartments on the East Side around 5:40 Thursday night, when he saw the boy. Witnesses said he jumped out of the car and ran onto the ice, which was 2 or 3 inches thick in parts.
He reached the child, who had been playing outside with two other young children. Jenkins held him up, trying to keep his head above water. But both he and the child went under, succumbing to the freezing temperatures.
Dive crews pulled them from the water — first Jenkins, 49 minutes after he ran in, and then the boy 12 minutes later. Jenkins died at Grant Medical Center.
The boy, whom police have not named, was in life-threatening condition last night at Nationwide Children’s Hospital.
Jenkins, whose family called him by his middle name, Russell, was a strong swimmer, which probably gave him the confidence to jump into the water, said family members who weren’t surprised by what he did.
“It was more of a shock that he wasn’t able to make it out,” his father, Walter Jenkins, said yesterday from his home in Gary, Ind.
What Russell Jenkins didn’t anticipate was how cold the water would be, his older brother, Aaron, guessed.
“He was that action guy. This time, it made him a hero,” Aaron Jenkins of the South Side said yesterday.
Russell Jenkins, who lived at Eastland on the Lake, had a son, Kameron, the same age as the boy in the water.
“It probably went through his head, ‘What if that was my son?’??” Aaron Jenkins said.
His family mourned yesterday but also was proud of his actions.
“There’s still some good people out there that care,” Walter Jenkins said. “There’s still some people out there that will lay their life down for another.”
There were other heroes as well on Thursday night. A Columbus fire battalion chief jumped in twice to try to save the man and boy. Three Columbus police officers tore off their gun belts and swam into the water, trying to reach the two, who had gone underwater by the time they arrived.
Officers Christopher Smith-Hughes, Logan Ramsier and Christopher Lieb all felt how paralyzing the cold water was as they tried in vain to reach Jenkins and the boy.
“He’s a hero. He did something unbelievable,” Ramsier said of Jenkins at a news conference yesterday attended by the three officers. The Fire Division did not name the battalion chief.
The large storm-water pond that winds among the apartment buildings off S. Hamilton Road has claimed other lives. In 2011, three people died in two separate incidents in the water; a man drowned there in 1998.
A woman who refused to give her name but said she was the property manager at the complex declined to comment on what happened Thursday, or to answer questions about any plans management might have to try to prevent another tragedy.
Today, Jenkins’ family mourns him and prays for the boy he tried to save.
“I really pray that the kid makes it,” Aaron Jenkins said, “because then my brother’s death doesn’t have to be in vain.”
Jenkins’ family is collecting money to help pay for his funeral and set up a fund for his son. Contributions can be made to the Diehl-Whittaker Funeral home at 720 E. Long St. or by calling 614-258-9549.