Girl recalls efforts to rescue friend from Lions Beach waters

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Saturday, August 14, 2010
— Matt Parr knows he and his wife raised their daughter Amber right.

“We all raised her to give 100 percent and help someone in need and don’t give up, and she acted on that,” he said. “She did what was right.”

Despite Amber’s best efforts, she couldn’t save her friend, Marcos Esquivel, 14, Beloit, from drowning Aug. 7.

Amber contacted the Gazette because she wants everyone to know what happened that day. People don’t know the whole story, she said, and they are placing blame where it shouldn’t be.

Amber, 15, of St. Peters, Mo., had been living with her dad in Beloit for the summer and was a member of the Tigres soccer team. The only girl on the team, Amber is athletic and determined, said her mother, Angela Walters. That helped Amber earn the respect of her teammates, who became like family, Walters said.

The Tigres had played a championship game in Rockford, Ill., the morning of Aug. 7, losing by one goal. The team and parents wanted to celebrate, so they picked up pizzas and went to Janesville’s Lions Beach.

After the group ate, the kids played volleyball and then went to cool off in the designated swim area. The beach removed lifeguards in 2001, but signs remain to caution swimmers to swim at their own risk.

The kids played tag on each others’ shoulders. The adults sat under trees in a grassy area and watched the kids, Matt Parr said.

Meanwhile, the team’s coach, Jon Wesley, walked along the edge of the beach to a point near Rotary Gardens. He swam to a sandbar, Matt Parr recalled. The kids saw him and followed.

“We all watched and said, ‘Well, it’s good, they want to be by coach,’” he said.

The adults watched the kids swim out one by one.

The water starts off waist deep but drops off suddenly, Amber recalled.

Swimming is not allowed outside the roped-off beach area.

The activity didn’t alarm the adults, Walters said. They thought the ropes designating the swim area are intended to keep boats out, she said. From their perspective on the beach, they didn’t realize the distance to the sandbar or know about the sudden drop-off.

From the sandbar, Amber watched Marcos enter the water.

“Marcos, he wasn’t a strong swimmer,” she said. “He knew how to swim; he just wasn’t the best. He got caught in the current and started to panic. And the water was really, really deep, and he was really, really struggling.”

Marcos started going up and down.

“We didn’t understand, and that’s when the coach jumped in and started swimming to him,” Amber said.

The coach held Marcos up as long as he could, Amber said, but Wesley has a heart condition.

“He (coach) tried to save him,” Amber said. “I just want everyone to know that he did. That needs to be clear.”

Amber and another boy swam to help.

“He was my friend, and he was scared,” Amber said of Marcos, “and I didn’t think about what would happen to me. I just thought, ‘He needs help.’

“We got to him, and we were holding him up, and he kept wanting to go under the water. We’d bring him up, and he’d go back down.”

Amber remembers seeing people standing on the shore, just watching.

“They just wouldn’t help, even though we were asking for it,” she said.

Then, Marcos had her in a bear hug and was pulling her under.

“And like, we went down and we were both under water, just me and Marcos. He was wrapped around me where I couldn’t move so I couldn’t swim up.

“We were under there for a long time.

“I couldn’t breathe or anything,” Amber said. “I was drowning, but I wasn’t thinking of me drowning. I was thinking, ‘I had to save him. I had to get him out of the water.’

“He just kept grabbing at me and didn’t understand that I couldn’t help him without him letting me go.”

Amber finally was able to pull his legs away from her.

“I pushed him away, and I started to swim up with him,” she said. “I had his arm, and then the guy pulled me out of the water, and I lost my grip on him and he was gone.”

Brian Spangler was in a boat above. He previously told the Gazette he saw two teens struggling in the water. He turned his trolling motor on full speed and hurried to the spot.

By the time he got to the teens, Spangler saw only Amber in the dark water. He grabbed her by the hand but could not lift her into the boat on his first tug, he recalled. That is likely because Amber was holding onto her friend’s arm.

The second time Spangler pulled, Amber popped right up, he said.

“I couldn’t breathe at all,” Amber said. “I was gasping for air.

“I was telling him, ‘You need to help him.’ I don’t think he understood. He’s like, ‘Just breathe.’

“All I was thinking was he wasn’t saving me. He was keeping me from saving Marcos.

“I don’t want to seem disrespectful. I appreciate what he did.”

The adults by this time were running to the scene.

Matt Parr saw his daughter’s feet flying out of the water into the boat. Then he saw her back in the water, distraught and crying. He said his family is grateful to Spangler for rescuing his daughter.

The other kids and adults took turns diving for Marcos until the rescue team came. Amber’s mother teaches CPR, and she was on the shore, ready to use it, she said.

Matt Parr found Wesley on his knees in the water.

“He was crying for Marcos,” he said. “I had to keep him from going back.”

Then Parr said Wesley grabbed his chest and slid to the ground. Parr called the paramedics.

Amber missed Marcos’ funeral, but the family is driving back to Janesville this weekend to see Wesley, who Amber said was still in the hospital Wednesday. She also will miss a team session with a therapist, but Amber said her mom would take her to a counselor if she wishes.

“They (the parents) blame themselves, just as much as I do,” Amber said.

“They just want me to know that it wasn’t my fault, and I should be proud of myself for what I did, but it’s hard.

“It wasn’t just us being irresponsible,” she said. “It was really just an accident.”

Amber said Marcos “was a really amazing person and a really amazing friend.”

The two were sweet on each other, although their feelings were largely unspoken.

“He really didn’t deserve what happened,” she said.

Amber will remember everything in vivid detail for a long time: The look on Marcos’ face when he went under; how time slowed as she swam to her friend and then struggled under the water; and, finally, losing her grip on his arm.

“There’s really no one to blame,” Amber said. “He knew he couldn’t swim. It was a choice he made. We tried as hard as we could. The water was too deep. The current was too strong, and he was fighting too hard.”

“She’s a brave little girl,” Matt Parr said of Amber. “She showed us a lot about herself.

“I’m proud of her. She don’t see that, yet.”

Last updated: 2:43 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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