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Minn. deputy says passerby's quick call, assistance was factor in woman's water rescue

This shows a section of bridge on Interstate 94 west of Alexandria that was removed for construction. Saturday night, a driver traveling east on the closed west-bound lane drove off the bridge and into the Lake Latoka channel. Lowell Anderson / Forum News Service1 / 2
Ben Jarvi2 / 2

ALEXANDRIA, Minn.—Douglas County Sheriff's Deputy Ben Jarvi had just finished his shift on water patrol and put the truck and boat away when his night took a detour Saturday.

Now in his squad car on his way to help with enforcement at a street dance in Kensington, a call crackled over his radio at 9:17 p.m: A passerby reported seeing a car plunge into Lake Latoka from a closed section of Interstate 94 near mile marker 100 west of Alexandria.

The bridge had been removed for construction and the driver, later identified as Beverly Toso, 76, of Hoffman, was traveling east in a closed westbound lane and was unable to stop before her car launched off the road and into the channel of the lake, according to the accident report.

Luckily, Jarvi was at the Pilot Travel Center, just a mile southeast of the crash. He was at the scene in a minute, maybe two.

He spotted the person who called the crash in, Kenneth Fletcher of Fargo, and Fletcher waved him over to the right side of where the bridge used to be.

When Jarvi saw the car, partially submerged, his instincts took over.

"In our squad car, we all carry a rope bag and a life jacket," Jarvi said. "I grabbed those and got down to the water. I took off my gear, tied off the end of the rope and gave the other end to Kenneth, and then I got into the water."

Toso, who was wearing a seat belt, was still in the car. There was about four inches of air between the water and the roof of the car.

"I asked her if she was OK and confirmed that there was no one else in the vehicle," Jarvi said. "I told her we'd be pulling her into shore."

At some point in the rescue, a pontoon boat full of people stopped by.

"They said they could throw us one of their life jackets," Jarvi said. "It was nice they were there and offered to help, if we needed it."

As it turned out, the extra help wasn't necessary. With Fletcher pulling them along on the rope, Jarvi and Toso made it back to dry land.

Toso was taken by North Ambulance to Alomere Health, where she was admitted and later discharged.

It's hard to know what would have happened if Fletcher hadn't immediately called 911 or if law enforcement had taken longer to respond.

"The car was partially on the bank, at an angle, and it seemed to be stable," Jarvi said. "So I don't know if it could have went in the water more. I'm not sure where the bottom was."

Jarvi is just glad that everything worked out.

"I don't know how many minutes it took but it was fairly quick," he said. "We were able to get there and get her out of the water."

Jarvi, who is a road deputy assigned to water patrol this summer, has completed ice and water rescue training, as is the case with all the deputies, but what happened on Saturday was a first.

"I've never had an incident like this," he said. "I've been on other water rescues in open water and that are boating related, but not a car in the water."

He does not consider himself a hero.

"I was just in the right place at the right time," he said. "It was a culmination of everyone coming together and everyone doing a good job to get her out. She's OK — that's the main thing."

Jarvi also commended Fletcher for his quick actions.

"We could not have done it without Kenneth's help," Jarvi said. "He was great — he did a really good job."

Douglas County Sheriff Troy Wolbersen also used the words "good job" to describe Jarvi's actions that night.

"To make a rescue that quickly — I'm really proud of him," Wolbersen said. "He did exactly what a sheriff wants his deputy to do."

Al Edenloff

Al Edenloff is the news and opinion page editor for the Echo Press. He was born in Alexandria and lived most of his childhood in Parkers Prairie. He graduated with honors from Moorhead State University with a degree in mass communications, print journalism. He interned at the Echo Press in the summer of 1983 and was hired a year later as a sports reporter. He also worked as a news reporter/photographer. Al is a four-time winner of the Minnesota Newspaper Association's Herman Roe Award, which honors excellence in editorial writing.  

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