Citizens, lifeguards honored for life-saving rescue July 4th in La Jolla


After their participation in a rescue at WindanSea Beach over the Fourth of July weekend that saved a boy’s life, the San Diego Fire & Rescue Department is recognizing the Power family of Clairemont, along with other citizens and lifeguards, with its Rescue of the Year award. The celebration, held to honor lives saved district-wide, is Oct. 30 at the Sheraton San Diego Hotel and Marina.

Ronnie Power, his wife, Eva, and their two sons, Malik and Kian (students at La Jolla Country Day School, where Eva teaches), were at WindanSea Beach on the busy holiday, when a group of boys got stuck under a large kelp bed. One of them was 13-year-old Cole, who was unconscious, not breathing and without a pulse when he was extracted.

Other citizens involved in the rescue to be recognized are Ken Zoglio, who unburied Cole’s head and chest; Michael Palacios, who performed rescue breathing; and Robb Luscomb and Nikolas Madren, who helped “unbury” Cole.

Watching the whole situation unfold from where he was sitting on the rocks, Ronnie Power said he saw three boys playing near a kelp bed, which according to lifeguard reports compiled by Marine Safety Lt. Rich Stropky, “didn’t appear to pose any threats.” Power said the boys “would lay on the sand at the easterly base of the kelp pile with the hope that the impacting waves would send a barrel of water over the top of them.”

That was until “the force of the water caused an unexpected shift in the kelp pile. The wave pushed the mass toward the beach, which allowed the top- heavy pile to roll over the top of the kids and bury them,” reports state.

“We watched this wave come up and hit so hard that it pushed all the sand and kelp up over these boys,” Power said. “We knew they were buried and one of them completely disappeared.”

Power, a teacher at Thurgood Marshall Middle School in Scripps Ranch, said the habit of constantly keeping an eye on children helped him recognize the severity of the situation and take quick action. “It wasn’t so much knowing what to do (in this situation), it was being observant and having eyes everywhere because we are dealing with kids all the time,” he said. “We also realized these could have been our boys and really, these are all of our kids.”

Running over to where an approximately four-foot kelp bed had amassed, the Powers immediately saw the lower torso and legs of one of the boys, 8-year-old Max, the rest of him covered in sand and seaweed. Over to the right, entangled but visible, was a second boy, 13-year-old Hayden. They pulled both boys free as waves crashed around them.

“When we pulled the first two boys out, Max was screaming ‘my brother is still in there!’ so I told my son to go get the lifeguard,” Power said, remembering that with the stronger tide, Cole could be pulled out to sea. But Max’s assurance that his brother was buried motivated Power to keep digging. “Max just knew Cole was in there,” Power said.

After digging through the kelp, heavy with water weight and sand, time noticeably of the essence, Power said he saw a wrist and hand.

He said he immediately yelled for help and other beachgoers came to assist. Upon realizing that Cole was unconscious, not breathing and without a pulse, they rushed to extract him from the pile.

“To do this whole thing was pretty traumatic. My wife says I am cool under pressure, but when I saw that he was (not breathing) ... tears were rolling down my face. I couldn’t believe this kid had been playing one minute and ... the next be completely out,” he said.

Cole’s rescuers handed him off to lifeguards, where after one cycle of CPR with chest compressions and rescue breathing, he vomited. Lifeguards report that from there, “The patient was relocated up the beach and reassessed to find a pulse but no breathing. Rescue breathing, suctioning and vomiting continued. Soon after that, the boy twitched his leg and began breathing on his own.”

Cole was transported to Rady Children’s Hospital where he was diagnosed with fluid in his lung. He is expected to make a full recovery.

Having grown up in Newport Beach and living in San Diego for more than 20 years, Power said he has been a beachgoer his entire life. That, and the fact that the Powers are teachers, is why they responded the way they did, he said.

“If it were my kids and something went wrong, I would hope the right people would be there and watching over them,” he said, encouraging all beachgoers to be aware of their surroundings and the activity of children nearby. “Everybody needs to understand that we all need to be watching out for each other, especially on busy days.”

Lifeguards involved included Colton Koons, Lifeguard I; Adam Larkin, Lifeguard II; James P. Earnest, Lifeguard I; Eric Guerrero, Lifeguard I; Brian Knappe, Lifeguard I; Jack Millen, Lifeguard I; Kyle Scarry, Lifeguard I; Michael Smoker, Lifeguard I; Lucas Wiley, Lifeguard I.