Cop, good Samaritans save special needs girl from drowning

By the time Deputy Jon Vosburgh arrived on the scene, the 4 year old was about 60 yards out and struggling to swim in Lake Ontario


Niagara Gazette

OLCOTT, N.Y. — The quick actions of good Samaritans and a Niagara County Sheriff’s deputy saved a 4-year-old girl from drowning in Lake Ontario near Krull Park on Thursday morning. 

According to Niagara County Sheriff Jim Voutour, the girl, who is non-verbal and has special needs, wandered from her Main Street home sometime before 8 a.m. Voutour said he didn’t know how the girl got the door open.

Deputy Jon Vosburgh  saved a young special needs girl from drowning in Lake Ontario. (Photo/Niagara County Sheriff's Office)
Deputy Jon Vosburgh saved a young special needs girl from drowning in Lake Ontario. (Photo/Niagara County Sheriff's Office)

She ended up at Krull Park, where she slipped through a fence around Olcott Beach.

Nearby park-goers tried to coax the girl away from the water, but seemingly frightened, she instead went farther out. So they called 911, reporting the girl was in the water and appeared at risk of drowning.

By the time Deputy Jon Vosburgh arrived on the scene, the girl was about 60 yards out and struggling to swim.

With waves pushing the girl farther from shore, and her head repeatedly vanishing under the waves, Vosburgh dove into the cold waters.

Vosburgh managed to bring her back to the shore within minutes.

The girl coughed up large amounts of water, but was conscious and breathing.

EMTs at Olcott Volunteer Fire Company evaluated the girl, who was later taken to Oishei Children’s Hospital for further evaluation.

Deputies spoke with Olcott residents and were able to locate the girl’s Main Street residence within about 30 minutes. They found the front door ajar and the girl’s father, Joshua Wankasky, asleep.

Voutour said deputies found no evidence that drugs or alcohol kept Wankasky in his slumber. Still, deputies charged Wankasky with endangering the welfare of a child, a misdemeanor. 

“He has an obligation to take care of his child,” said Voutour, adding that he trusted his deputies and their supervisors’ determination.

Deputies found no sign of the girl’s mother at the home. “No one’s ever mentioned mom all day. She wasn’t there,” Voutour said.

Voutour commended the 911 callers and Vosburgh, a Newfane native and U.S. Marine Corps veteran who was hired by the sheriff’s office in 2011.

“Deputy Vosburgh did an outstanding job. He thought nothing of taking off his equipment, diving into a 55-degree lake and bringing this girl above the surface,” Voutour said. “Had he not done that, we would have been talking about a death for sure.”

After the rescue, Vosburgh dried off, put on a clean uniform and went back to patrol duty.

Later in the day, Vosburgh responded to a dispute involving two fishermen on opposite sides of Eighteen Mile Creek. 

“I thought he was going to have to go into the water again. ... Fortunately, he was able to solve that from shore,” Voutour said.

Copyright 2018 Niagara Gazette

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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