'We were just happy we were there': Fishing buddies recognized for lifesaving rescue in Wauconda
Two fishing buddies who located and pulled an 11-year-old boy from the frigid waters of Bangs Lake in Wauconda more than two years ago officially were recognized Wednesday for their heroic efforts.
"Whether or not you believe in divine intervention, there was something there," said Scott Bellanger, who was fishing on a bass boat with Michael Graves on April 19, 2019, when heard screams from shore.
"We didn't know what we were looking for," recalled Graves. "We were just happy we were there."
The pair were honored with lifesaving awards from Wauconda police as part of a long-delayed awards program. Several department members also were honored for milestones and actions dating to 2018.
But the rescue of Marcuis Montez -- and the death of 9-year-old Geraldo Rodriguez, his friend and next-door neighbor -- was an occurrence first responders never forget.
"This incident has never been easy for anyone to talk about," Wauconda police Chief David Wermes said before the program at village hall. "Now is the time to recognize everybody and bring closure."
Earlier on that Good Friday, April 19, 2019, Wermes said he noticed the whitecaps on Bangs Lake and what he described as horrible conditions. Hours later he would be back with scores of rescue personnel as part of a massive search for the younger boy, whose body wasn't found until the next day.
Bellanger and Graves are fishing buddies and co-workers at the public works department in Arlington Heights. They were itching to get out for the first time of the season, despite the conditions.
"I almost canceled," said Graves, who lives in Wauconda and owns the bass boat. "It was rough out there."
Theirs was the only fishing boat on the lake, but they hadn't caught anything all day. They finally had some luck on a channel near the lake's northwest corner when they heard screaming and yelling from the Lake View Villa Beach dock.
A witness said there were two kids in the water near an unoccupied boat. The pair had been on a paddleboat that was drifting away from the shore. They panicked and jumped into the water, Wermes said.
Bellanger and Graves said people were pointing toward an area a couple of hundred yards from the bass boat. By then the paddleboat had drifted away from the boys.
Graves sped toward the area and by chance nearly ran into Marcuis. A foot or two either way and they wouldn't have found him, Bellanger said.
"That was a miracle in itself," Wermes said.
Seeing only his face above water, the pair were able to trap Marcuis against the side of the boat and pull him on board by his pants. They rushed him to rescue personnel waiting on shore.
"I couldn't feel my arms. I'm so grateful they were there in time," Marcuis said after the awards presentation Wednesday. Now a 13-year-old eighth-grader at Wauconda Middle School, he attended the ceremony with his grandparents and sister.
It was the second time he met his rescuers after the fact. The first was a similar awards ceremony in Arlington Heights last year.
"If not for your vigilance, quick response and most importantly, your willingness to get involved, the victim's life would have been lost," the Wauconda award reads.