Westbrook residents Michael Thomas, left, and Kimberly Tarbox visit the scene Wednesday where they rescued a young boy from the Presumpscot River during Winterfest on Saturday. Robert Lowell / American Journal

Quick-acting citizens saved a boy who fell into the Presumpscot River on Saturday during the city’s annual Winterfest celebration at Riverbank Park.

Michael Thomas of Westbrook was visiting a Winterfest booth when he heard shouting that a youngster was in the river.

“My adrenaline was pumping,” Thomas, a retired Coast Guard veteran and member of American Legion Post 62, told the American Journal this week.

He rushed to the river’s edge to see two adults already in the water up to their chests trying to help the boy, Thomas said.

“The two in the water took action right off the bat,” he said.

One of those in the water was Kimberly Tarbox, also of Westbrook. Tarbox, chair of the Westbrook Safe Mobility and Access Committee, had just arrived at Winterfest to distribute safety pamphlets.


Then, she heard yelling and sprang from her wheelchair that she uses part time.

“I slipped off my shoes and jacket,” Tarbox said, and she jumped in. “Oh my goodness, it was freezing cold.”

Another woman from Old Orchard Beach, who was later treated by paramedics for a broken ankle, had jumped in first. Tarbox said the boy was turning blue and had gone under a couple of times that she witnessed.

“He couldn’t swim,” she said.

The two women pushed the boy towards Thomas, who got his arms around the boy’s shoulders and under a leg.

“He was crying and confused,” Thomas said.


Thomas, in water up to his knees, passed the boy up the bank to Eban Soule of Yarmouth, who helped pull the boy to safety. Soule was at Winterfest with his children and said he was at the bounce house when he heard a scream; “There’s a kid in the water, he’s drowning!”

“I started running,” Soule said, and arrived to help pull the boy up the bank from Thomas’ arms.

Nancy Harper witnessed the incident from across the river, “yelled over” the water for help and, responding to a Facebook message Monday, cited the bravery of those who rescued the boy.

Thomas said a girl called 911 and Westbrook and Gorham ambulances responded. Gorham paramedics, Thomas said, treated one of the rescuers who injured her ankle in the water. Westbrook paramedics attended to the boy, who was at Winterfest with his grandmother, according to rescuers.

“The EMPs were worried about him because he wasn’t shivering,” Soule said.

Thomas estimated the water temperature was about 39 degrees and the boy was dressed in a T-shirt and sweatpants. He said that the water level near the bank was low with little current and “(the boy) would have been swept away” if that were not the case.


Tarbox said the boy was treated at the scene and released while the woman suffering the ankle injury was transported to a hospital. Tarbox suffered a back sprain.

The vice chair of the citizens safety group is calling for a fence in Riverbank Park along the river.

Dennis Marrotte, Post 62 commander, called the harrowing incident a “wake-up call.”

“There needs to be a solid, rugged fence or protective aesthetic barrier along the park side of the river all the way back to the river boardwalk,” Marrotte said.

After the rescue, Thomas returned home and drank hot tea; Soule asked himself “what just happened?” and Tarbox said, “I’m glad I was there. You just react.”

Witnesses said the rescue occurred at about 1:30 p.m. on Saturday. Westbrook Public Safety did not provide information about the incident by the American Journal’s print deadline on Wednesday.

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