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Olson: Local men part of miraculous rescue

Brian Gavin (left) and Tom Olmsted pose with a walleye. The two DeKalb men helped save two people whose boat capsized near the Oregon Dam on the Rock River on March 30.
Brian Gavin (left) and Tom Olmsted pose with a walleye. The two DeKalb men helped save two people whose boat capsized near the Oregon Dam on the Rock River on March 30.

Tom Olmstead has been fishing near the Oregon Dam on the Rock River for years.

He knows that the walleye bite on chartreuse lead-head jigs. And he knows that you never, ever get your boat near the powerful current created by water going over the L-shaped dam.

The eddy can suck you right in, which is what happened to a couple while Olmstead, 42, DeKalb, and his friend Brian Gavin, 41, of DeKalb, were there last weekend.

The two had set off around 6 a.m. along with Olmstead’s son Luke, 9, and Gavin’s son David, 10. They fished for a few hours in a canoe before deciding to call it a day around 10:30 a.m.

As they were packing up on shore, they’d seen a couple in a flat-bottomed boat drawing near the current of the dam. The men had told their boys it was dangerous to get so close.

The couple appeared to have snagged one of their fishing lines. They were trying to retrieve their lure when the current pulled the boat into the rushing water.

Horrified fishermen watched from shore as the boat began to take on water. They began to yell to a woman in the boat to put her lifejacket on; she did moments before the boat capsized.

“Literally, it was the grace of God that gave them about 15 seconds or so for her to get her lifejacket on because as soon as she got that thing on, they just got twisted and went under,” Olmstead said.

Olmstead already had taken some of their gear up to his truck and was walking back to the boat when the couple went in.

“I was able to get back up and get my canoe paddles,” Olmstead said. “I called 911 when I was up there. I grabbed the paddles and ran with Brian to the canoe.”

Both men agree what happened next was miraculous.

The man went under the water for about 10 seconds before he floated down to a rock pile in the river about 25 yards from shore. His wife was under the water for about 45 seconds to a minute, Gavin estimated.

“I think everyone, we all lost 10 years that day, our heart was just sinking,” Gavin said. “Then she pops up, she pops up and floated to her husband.”

Instinct took over for Olmstead and Gavin. They jumped into their canoe and paddled out to help.

Olmstead, the more experienced canoeist of the two, helped get the couple off the rocks and had them grab the canoe. It was clear the exposure to the frigid water was taking its toll.

“I could tell the woman was in shock,” Olmstead said. “They grabbed onto the canoe.

“They held on and we really just pulled them to shore. There were a couple of deep holes, so I’m glad we could be there.”

Gavin provided the muscle to help pull them to safety.

“I saw them and they were just kind of holding on and I started paddling with all my might,” Gavin said “By God’s grace, I don’t know why the canoe didn’t tip over.

“We got them to shore and the paramedics met us there, and that was it.”

The two people in the capsized boat, Jessica Long, 26, and Nathan Long, 31, of Streator, both came through OK, authorities said.

The Gavin and Olmstead families are pretty close. Olmstead has been the administrator at Cornerstone Christian Academy for 17 years; Gavin, a speech pathologist at Elgin public schools, sends his children to school at Cornerstone and is a member of the school board.

Gavin and Olmstead both thought that a higher power was watching out for those people in the boat on that day before Easter. Although the couple’s 2-year-old black lab didn’t survive, the two people were taken to KSB Hospital in Dixon where they were treated and released that day.

“That 20-foot boat stayed in the dam for hours on end, and those people got out,” Gavin said. “So I just truly believe that’s the reason why a miracle happened and God had his hand in that.”

Many of us like to think about what we would want to do if we found ourselves confronted with a similar situation. Most of us would probably hope we’d do just what Olmstead and Gavin did.

Feeling left out: I live in Sycamore. So unlike those of you in DeKalb, Genoa, Hinckley, Kirkland and so on … there’s not a lot for me to vote on Tuesday.

As you can see on our Election Central website (, there’s lots of competition for most every race in DeKalb, and in many of the other towns around DeKalb County.

In Sycamore, the second-largest city in the county, most of the races are foregone conclusions.

There’s no contest in any of the five seats up for election on the city council, or for the city clerk’s office. No contest for any of the four seats up for election on the District 427 school board. In fact, we’re short a candidate, but luckily Eric Jones has stepped up to run as a write-in.

The Sycamore Park District board is the only place where there will be any competition. It’s a you-pick-two between incumbents Ted Strack and Michelle Shulz and challenger Matthew Wittrup. For a two-year unexpired term, incumbent William Kroeger is opposed by Greg Martin.

I’m not saying that Sycamore Mayor Ken Mundy and the four incumbents running unopposed for Sycamore’s city council are falling down on the job. School board President Jim Dombek and the other two incumbents running unopposed for another term seem to be managing fine as well.

From what I can tell from four months living in town with children in the school system, things seem to work just fine. But competition is good for government, just like it’s good for a free market. When people have to work to earn your vote – rather than being assured of it by default – it can be good for both the officials and the people they represent.

Maybe two years from now we’ll have a more spirited local competition.

I plan to show up and vote Tuesday, anyway. Join me, won’t you?

Social media scare: I read the posts from people on the Daily Chronicle’s Facebook page about the plea agreement for William Curl, who will serve 37 years in prison for the murder of Antinette “Toni” Keller.

I understand the outrage at the crime to which Curl pleaded guilty this week. It is despicable.

But some of the comments also made me grateful that American justice is kept out of the hands of angry mobs.

Just sayin’.

Baseball is back: It’s great to see baseball back. April baseball is my favorite reminder that summer is right around the corner.

I’m going to set the over/under on how long Carlos Marmol lasts as Cubs closer at a month.

• Eric Olson is the editor of the Daily Chronicle. Reach him at 815-756-4841, ext. 2257, email, or follow him on Twitter @DC_Editor.

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