Lockport man rescues woman from Lake Michigan
By Tony Graf firstname.lastname@example.org June 19, 2012 1:07PM
2nd Lt. Nicholas Dominguez, a U.S. Marine from Lockport who made a lifesaving rescue Monday on Lake Michigan, stands with his girlfriend Diana Hunt. | SUBMITTED PHOTO
Updated: July 21, 2012 6:17AM
A U.S. Marine from Lockport saved the life of a woman struggling in the waters of Lake Michigan, and then swam out deeper in search of her friend.
The Marine’s mother, also of Lockport, swam out and helped her son in the lifesaving effort.
Marine 2nd Lt. Nicholas Dominguez saved Evelyn Hernandez on Monday and brought her to safety on a lake sand bar. Hernandez and her friend, Leonel Dominguez, had become separated from their raft off the Indiana coast. Indiana officials on Tuesday were still searching for Dominguez, a 31-year-old from New York City.
Nicholas Dominguez, 22, is a recent graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, and had been commissioned a Marine second lieutenant on May 29. He is a graduate of Lockport Township High School and Will County District 92, having attended Oak Prairie Junior High School in Homer Glen and Ludwig School in Lockport.
Dominguez’s mother, Jeanne Dominguez of Lockport, swam out to help her son during his rescue effort. She was able to assist Hernandez and then help in the search for Leonel Dominguez, who is not related to the Lockport family.
On Monday, Evelyn Hernandez and Leonel Dominguez were visiting Hernandez’s sister in Beverly Shores.
Around 3 p.m., Dominguez and Hernandez paddled an inflatable boat out into Lake Michigan east of Lake View Beach in the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore. When they were at least 100 feet from shore, Hernandez told Dominguez that she wanted to go back to the beach, so he jumped into the water and tried to swim back to shore with the inflatable boat in tow.
The winds were gusting around 35 mph, and Leonel was not making much headway and getting tired. He tried to get back into the raft, but the wind caused it to flip and eject Evelyn. The raft quickly floated away, so the pair had to swim back to the beach.
The Lockport mother and son — Jeanne and Nicholas Dominguez— were on the beach. They had come to Beverly Shores on Monday to visit Jeanne’s former neighbors. Jeanne grew up in that area.
“We were just on the beach on a sunny day with our dogs,” Nicholas said.
“I’m not sure at what point we noticed the raft floating, because we were playing with the dogs and all that,” he said. “We saw when it was tipped over and kind of blowing in the wind. And we could see the two swimmers who were out there. We were watching them.”
“I wanted to just go in and see if they needed help. I’m fairly confident in my ability. I wasn’t worried about how far out it was,” Nicholas said.
He did not believe they were in great danger. He just wanted to help them out.
“I just handed my mom my sunglasses, and made for the water,” he said.
Nicholas swam for the person who was closest to him, Hernandez.
“When I was out there, I couldn’t really see very far, because you were neck deep in the waves. But when I was finally able to see her, I yelled that I was coming and that’s when she started yelling: ‘Help me, help me, I’m exhausted.’ I got to her and grabbed her around the waist and took her back to a sand bar where she could stand.
Jeanne swam out to help her son.
“At that point, my mom had already come in after me,” Nicholas said. “My mom, she was worried for me, so she followed me after a while.”
“She was still a little ways away. But I left Evelyn on the sand bar, and was going to find the second person. So I told her to wait here — my mom was coming to help her.”
Search for Leonel
“I turned and I swam back deeper, to where I had last seen Leo. The last time I saw him was when I was still on the shore,” Nicholas said.
“When I swam deeper, I didn’t see him. We were yelling his name. So I swam deeper out. And it never occurred to me that he would go under. I just thought that he had drifted further away with the current.”
A Coast Guard boat arrived on the scene, and Nicholas backed off, not wanting to interfere.
“So I swam back to the sand bar, and I still was walking along the sand bar, looking, yelling his name,” Nicholas said. “And then a couple of more boats came. And I was pretty far out from where we started, and it wasn’t until I saw the divers come out — and I could make out their scuba tanks — that I came back in.”
After Evelyn was able to return to shore, Jeanne helped her son in the search for Leonel.
“My mom followed me along the sand bar, while I was deeper out. She wanted to make sure she didn’t lose sight of me, and we were both yelling.”
Evelyn Hernandez told emergency responders that she would not have survived without help from Dominguez, said Gene Davis, conservation officer with the Indiana Department of Natural Resources.
On Tuesday afternoon, Nicholas reflected on the experience.
“While I am humbled by the praise I have received, and extremely grateful that I was put on that beach to at least save Evelyn, I wish I could have brought Leo Dominguez back. He and his family are in my family’s thoughts and prayers.”
A construction worker at a nearby house witnessed the scene and called 911.
A U.S. Coast Guard boat found the inflatable boat floating in water about 21 feet deep a few hours after the incident.
Davis said that high winds made conditions particularly dangerous for swimmers and boaters on Monday.
“Lake Michigan is different than any other lake,” Davis said. “Particularly on the southern end, it warms up and makes conditions ideal for visitors, but it’s the most affected area by wind and waves.”
Besides park police and DNR, emergency personnel from Portage, Washington Township, Ogden Dunes, Beverly Shores, Burns Harbor, Porter and the U.S. Coast Guard helped with the search. Rescuers resumed the search on Tuesday, but still had not found Leonel Dominguez.
The Post-Tribune in Indiana contributed to this story.