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Accident Description


Kayaker rescued from Cumming's Dam

By Anita Miller News Editor —

A cheer went up on the gravel bar beneath Cumming's Dam Saturday afternoon after San Marcos Area Recovery Team (SMART) diver Dan Misiaszek rescued a kayaker who had become trapped behind the rushing water. J.R. Campbell, 28, of San Antonio had been sucked under the dam while trying to run it and was trapped in a compartment built into the face of the dam. He had been there for about two hours, his friend said, before SMART arrived. During some of that time, a South Hays Fire Department volunteer was on the dam and able to communicate with Campbell. Misiaszek entered the water at approximately 4:30 p.m. Less than five minutes after that, he surfaced downstream with a jubilant Campbell in tow.

James Lacewell, who had been kayaking with Campbell, said they had run the old dam many times in the past but not this year, when the river is running significantly higher. Lacewell said as they approached the dam, he had held a rope that was attached to Campbell, but "as soon as he hit the water he was sucked under." Lacewell said he put on a life jacket and had another friend hold a rope while he attempted a rescue. "I swam as hard as I could but I never even got close to the base of the falls." He said the group had run other dams on their excursion Saturday. "We were nice and confident. This one just sucked him under."

He said Campbell is a decorated combat veteran who had undergone survival training. "That's probably what allowed him to make it." Campbell initially told paramedics standing by that he was fine, but almost collapsed twice as he was helped to a waiting ambulance. "I want to thank these fine gentlemen for getting me out," he said. Misiaszek attributed the quickness of the rescue to the well-timed actions of his support team. "It went like clockwork due to excellent teamwork between the South Hays Fire swift water rescue team and SMART," he said. He said once he reached Campbell, he gave him a "pony tank" from which to breathe before they re-entered the rushing water and let the river carry them free of the currents at the base of the dam. "We had to submerge about 20 feet to get below the curtain of water and get to the bottom of the dam where the current is less turbulent. When we hit the bottom I gave the rope signal and the topside team pulled us out and secured us downstream when we surfaced." Misiaszek said he made sure Campbell could not be separated from him. "I made him put his arm through my vest. Even if he wanted to let go I had him clamped. I wouldn't let go."

Cumming's dam is located on the San Marcos River just below its confluence with the Blanco. It's familiar territory for Misiaszek, who rescued a 16-year-old who had also become trapped in a compartment on the dam's face. That occasion, in August 2002, was the first time the SMART team — usually called out to recover bodies — had accomplished a rescue. That story was widely reported in Central Texas and was featured in the April 2003 edition of Reader's Digest.

William Hendryx' article was titled "Drama in Real Life — Swept Away." Saturday "brought back memories," Misiaszek said. While Campbell was being treated in the ambulance, Lacewell lined up the entire rescue team for a photo. He said their group intended to continue to their take-out point a short distance downriver. Someone would have to take on Campbell though. His kayak had disappeared and was presumed to be still under the dam trapped by the pounding force of the water.

A YouTube video shot by James Lacewell shows Campbell "penciling in" to the dam's hydraulic and being sucked under.  Lacewell immediately put down the camera, but it continued to record, capturing audio of the initial rescue attempts.