By: Joanne M. Haas/WDNR Bureau of Law Enforcement
DNR Conservation Warden Jake Donar's preparedness, expert boat handling in dangerous currents and teamwork with Dane County Sheriff's deputies and area agencies helped save a man's life late Monday night after flash flooding swept his car off the road and into the rising Sugar River.
"This rescue would not have been possible without every person working together - and there were multiple emergency responders," Warden Jake said of the miraculous rescue off Highway PD near the Military Trail area in southern Dane County. "Everyone deserves credit."
Monday night's torrential rains fueled damaging widespread flash floods that forced drivers to abandon their cars as roads and some bridges disappeared into newly formed lakes in Madison and beyond.
The National Weather Service estimates western Dane County area received 13 to more than 15 inches as the storms pounded the area like a bull's-eye.
Tragically, Madison officials confirmed the death of a man who was swept away after he emerged from his stalled car in a flooding city intersection as bystanders tried to save him.
Warden Jake did not know of the tragic loss of life at that Madison intersection as he was finishing his Monday shift about midnight. But he knew the storms were causing havoc everywhere. And he was about to be pulled into it.
He was on the other side of Sugar River when he got the Dane County emergency call about a man in trouble at the river.
When deputies arrived on scene at the Sugar River, the man was sitting on his car but his leg was pinned in the car.
"Nobody could get to him because of the ripping current," Warden Jake said. "And the water was rising rapidly."
The emergency responders hatched a plan and requested a boat built for these swift water situations. This is where Warden Jake comes in.
On his mission, Warden Jake raced to the WDNR Fitchburg Service Center to get his flat bottom boat and grabbed enough life jackets for all. Meanwhile, back at the river, emergency responders were able to toss the trapped man a flotation ring.
Warden Jake arrived and dropped the boat in the rising, rushing waters. Then he and the two deputies -- Deputy Schiro and Deputy Katzenmeyer -- geared up with the swift water life jackets. Together, they sped into the rushing dark water with Warden Jake at the helm.
Warden Jake tapped his training and knew exactly how to operate the boat in these harrowing conditions. By the time Warden Jake and the two officers got to the man, the man was holding the ring around his chin to keep his head above the water line. And he was still stuck to his car.
Other emergency responders in a second boat were able to get to the deputies and somehow provided a crowbar.
As Warden Jake tells it, one deputy held the man up so he wasn't gulping water as the other deputy used the crowbar on the car to free the man and guided him quickly into the boat, then back to shore to the medical personnel on site.
How did that all happen? Warden Jake isn't sure but it worked; and, he is certain the man is safe today because of everyone on scene. Things happened so fast that night Warden Jake is not sure of all the agencies -- but he guesses Madison Fire Department, agencies from Pine Bluff, Verona, Fitchburg and more. As he puts it: "They all were there!
"In the time we were out there, the water went up about another several inches," Donar said. "That man would have drowned without the teamwork of all the emergency responders who came to the scene."
Teamwork is awesome public service, and Warden Jake is known for it.
If you have information regarding natural resource violations, you may confidentially report by calling or texting: VIOLATION HOTLINE: 1-800-TIP-WDNR or 1-800-847-9367. The hotline is in operation 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Trained staff relay report information to conservation wardens.