Good Samaritans, boat crew honored for saving Canadian steel worker's life

Posted at 6:22 PM, Feb 09, 2024

DETROIT (WXYZ) — A family and a crew of boaters were honored Friday after saving a steel worker's life last year.

Back in July, a man working on the Ambassador Bridge, which connects Detroit to Windsor, fell 140 feet into the river sustaining multiple life-threatening injuries.

A family in the park nearby happened to watch as the fall unfolded.

"We were just looking at the bridge, at the workers and how they were so small, and at that very moment a guy tumbled down in a cartwheel position and we were like Oh My God," said Benita Flowers.

Flowers says she was in the park with her daughter and granddaughter at the time. She and her granddaughter ran toward the JW Wescott to alert the mariners.

"I was like somebody fell off the bridge! Somebody fell off the bridge," said Tionne Bevelle as she recounted banging on the door of the JW Wescott with her grandmother that day.

The crew, inside the office at the time, says they were having a meeting at the time.

"We immediately didn’t even think about it. We sat our coffee down and three of us hopped on the first available boat that was here," said Captain Sam Buchanan."We practice for this all the time because we’re putting passengers on and off ships that are moving. So, if somebody was to fall off a ladder or find their way into the river some way we practice getting them out as fast as possible."

Captain Buchanan says it took them only three minutes to make it to Spencer Baker, the steelworker who had just accidentally fallen.

"The thing that sticks in my mind the most is that when we pulled him in, he was like where am I and why am I all wet? He really didn’t even remember the fall," said Paul Dalpiaz who was a part of the rescue crew that day. "There were just so many lucky things that day: the fishermen, us being here, there wasn’t a freighter going by. He could have landed on a freighter. It could have been a rainy day. It could have been night."

Al Holland, who counted his fourth season with the crew was also on board. He says they originally thought the man was a jumper as that's something they more commonly deal with.

"It was terrifying in the beginning. This was my first river rescue. We train for it all the time but it’s just items in the river that you pluck out. I never imagined that I would be involved in actually saving someone’s life," said Holland. "He was very confused, obviously in a lot of pain, very scary for him, but we just went right to work."

Friday, the crew and Good Samaritans were recognized for their quick thinking. The Coast Guard held a ceremony in the lobby of the JW Wescott office presenting all six people with the Captain David P. Dobbins Award for excellence in search and rescue.

The boat crew was also recognized for a water rescue they made 10 days after the steelworker fell from the bridge.

"Really the only thing I take home is, I’m just glad he’s alive and his family has him today," said Captain Buchanan.

Both the Good Samaritans and the mariners now being hailed as heroes, say they’d do it all again in a heartbeat.

"We weren’t doing it for the recognition. We would want somebody to do it for us if it was us as well. It’s a great feeling," said Terri George who was at the park that day with her family.

7 Action News did reach out to the family of Baker for an interview but they respectfully declined as Spencer continues to recover.