Two men are being hailed as heroes after they rescued a teenager from drowning in Lake Lanier over the Memorial Day weekend.
Ronnie Cronan of Dawsonville had gone to Thompson Creek Park on May 24 in search of spotted bass. Jonathan Fulwider of Lumpkin County was there for a family reunion.
Minutes after Cronan arrived, the men joined forces to haul 14-year-old Alex Simerly of Ball Ground to shore and revive him as emergency personnel arrived.
Cronan said he was just in the right place at the right time.
“I am glad that I was able to help, and if I had to do it again, I would,” he said.
Added Fulwider: “They told me that he [Simerly] was so full of water ... if we had not performed CPR, he would have died.”
Dawson County Chief of Emergency Services Lanier Swafford praised both rescuers.
“The quick action on behalf of those two men undoubtedly affected the outcome of that young man,” Swafford said.
The teen’s family has not commented publicly on the situation. Fulwider, however, said Simerly had made a full recovery and suffered no permanent damage.
“His mom has thanked me several times for saving her son,” he said. “She is very glad he is still alive and grateful to the others that helped save him.”
In separate interviews last week, Cronan and Fulwider shared their accounts of the rescue, which unfolded about 2 p.m. May 24.
Shortly after Cronan arrived at his favorite fishing spot, Fulwider and Simerly waded into a nearby cove for a swim.
“It wasn’t any more than about five minutes later that I heard a man holler, ‘He’s drowning,’” Cronan said.
According to witness accounts, the pair had started out across the lake to a dock about 300 feet from the shore when Simerly went under.
“Alex didn’t think he was going to make it to the dock, so he turned around to swim back to shore,” Fulwider said. “He made it about halfway back and panicked.”
Alerted to the situation by another man who was fishing nearby with his young son, Cronan dropped his pole and went into the water.
Fulwider also heard the screams.
“Luckily, [Simerly] popped back up so I could see him, and I started trying to pull him back to the shore,” Fulwider said.
By the time Cronan got out to the spot, which he said was about 20 to 30 feet from shore, Simerly was “lifeless.”
Cronan said he pushed Simerly up from a depth of about 10 to 12 feet. He and Fulwider then were able to haul him to shore, no small feat given that Simmerly was weighted down by blue jeans.
“By the time we got him to the bank, he was already a gray-looking color,” Cronan said. “I have never seen a person’s lips that blue before.”
The two men performed CPR, with Cronan handling the chest compressions and Fulwider giving mouth to mouth.
Fulwider, a Lumpkin County resident and former whitewater rafting guide on the Nantahala River in North Carolina, said Simerly was “practically dead before we revived him.”
“It all happened so fast,” Fulwider said. “I’m glad that I have been trained [in CPR] and was able to react to save his life. I’m just glad he’s alive.”
By the time emergency personnel arrived, Simerly was reportedly conscious and sitting up.
Still, his heart stopped briefly during the ambulance ride to Northeast Georgia Medical Center in Gainesville and had to be revived again at the hospital, according to a report Fulwider said he received from emergency services and hospital personnel.
A 25-year resident of Dawson County, Cronan has spent the last six years as a maintenance worker with the county facilities department.
James Tolbert, facilities director, described him as “an excellent and hard worker ... one of the best that I’ve got.”
Just last year, Tolbert said, each employee in the department was required to obtain CPR certification from the American Red Cross.
“Being trained in CPR is a good certification to have since we work in conjunction with the parks and recreation,” he said.
E-mail Elizabeth Hamilton at firstname.lastname@example.org.