By Starrla Cray
LESTER PRAIRIE, MN Lester Prairie resident Mitchell Mochinski, 22, gave a man a second chance at life Nov. 5, unselfishly risking his own life in the process.
“It happened really quick,” Mochinski said.
He was on vacation at Gull Lake in Lake Shore (north of Brainerd), spending the day with his girlfriend, Laura Kahmeyer of Waconia.
“We were just fishing out on the pier,” Mochinski said, explaining that it was too windy to take the boat out that day.
“All of a sudden, we heard this big splash,” Mochinski said. He and Kahmeyer turned around to see something floating in the water.
“We were like, holy smoke, that’s a person,” Mochinski said.
A man had plummeted from the 15-foot-high Cass County Road 77 bridge into the 40-degree water of Gull Lake.
At first, Mochinski and Kahmeyer weren’t sure if the man was drowning, or if he was just goofing around in the water. He was dressed in all black, so Mochinski thought he might be wearing a wetsuit.
Within a couple seconds, however, the man stopped moving entirely.
“I immediately called 911, and I told Mitch to save him,” Kahmeyer said. “I wasn’t about to let him just drown.”
Determined to do all he could to help, Mochinski took off his coat and went in after him.
“It was probably about 30 seconds from when he [the drowning man] hit the water to when I was in the water,” Mochinski said.
Mochinski is a good swimmer, but traveling 30 yards while wearing hunting boots and two pairs of pants wasn’t easy.
“I was wearing too much clothing,” he said. “When I was halfway across, I thought, this probably wasn’t a good idea.”
In order to move in the frigid water, Mochinski clung to the cement pillars holding the bridge, pushing off from one to the next.
The man was unconscious as Mochinski pulled him to shore. Kahmeyer and a 16-year-old boy who had also been fishing nearby helped them both out of the water.
“It was very good Laura and the 16-year-old were there,” Mochinski said, explaining that his hands were so cold he had trouble keeping hold of the victim.
Laura, who works at a daycare and is trained in CPR, checked the man’s vital signs.
“He had a heartbeat, and when we tilted his head back, he started gasping for air,” she said.
“Within the first five minutes of getting him on shore, the first police officer showed up,” Mochinski said.
“It seemed like it took forever, but the whole thing was only a matter of minutes,” Kahmeyer said.
Mochinski wanted to stay to make sure the man was OK, but needed to change out of his freezing, wet clothing.
“I couldn’t feel my hands or my feet,” he said.
The Lake Shore Police Department credits Mochinski with saving the man’s life.
“I am very grateful that Mochinski was in the right place at the right time,” Lake Shore Police Chief Steve Sundrom stated. “His act of bravery and courage, of risking his own life to save another life, shows he is a true hero.”
The victim was transported by North Ambulance to Essentia Health’s St. Joseph’s Medical Center in Brainerd, where he was evaluated and treated for hypothermia.
It was later determined that this may have been a suicide attempt.
Recently, Mochinski received a thank you letter from the man’s family.
Jumping into a lake to save someone can be dangerous, especially in cold weather. There have been many cases of people dying while attempting to save another drowning victim.
Kahmeyer said she was told after the incident that asking Mochinski to go in after the victim was a risky idea.
However, Mochinski knew what he was doing, and was willing to put the other man’s comfort and safety ahead of his own.
“I’ve fallen through the ice before, so I knew it would be cold,” said Mochinski, who works as a sales representative for Frito Lay in Coon Rapids.
The 2006 Lester Prairie High School graduate is familiar with water, and often goes tubing and waterskiing in the summer.
Mochinski also enjoys hunting and fishing, and has been living outdoors his “entire life.”