Aaron Schnell, men’s head rowing coach at the University of Minnesota, takes a motorboat out on the Mississippi River every day during practice season. Usually, it’s not to help police with a rescue.
Schnell received a citizen’s award Wednesday from the university Police Department for helping save a 23-year-old man who jumped from the Washington Avenue Bridge on the afternoon of July 7, police said.
“I was just walking between the dock and the boathouse, and the police car came flying up,” Schnell said.
At the officer’s request, he quickly snagged the motorboat keys, started the engine and steered into the river. He guided the boat, with the officer aboard, about 100 yards upstream from the bridge.
The man dipped below the water’s surface twice before the officer — taking tips on the man’s location from police stationed along the river — tossed him a flotation device.
Schnell steered the boat back to the dock, and the man was taken to the hospital where he survived.
“The police were kind of giving me these attaboys, like ‘way to help, look what you did,’ and I was just sitting there thinking, ‘I just drove the boat for them,’ ” Schnell said.
He’s heard sirens roar along East River Road near Arlington street before, when emergency personnel are searching for people who have drowned.
“When you’re down there a lot you kind of get numb to it because it’s just another body,” he said. “It kind of felt good to be helping the police actually save someone.”
Though university police don’t encourage bystander involvement, sometimes citizens lend a helping hand, University Police Chief Matt Clark said at the award ceremony Wednesday.
“We take care of each other. We take care of our students that we work with, the students take care of us and really that adds to the learning environment, but also the community, we have at the university,” Clark said.
But Schnell said he doesn’t feel like a hero at all.
“That was the police officers,” he said.
Jessie Bekker is a University of Minnesota student on assignment for the Star Tribune.