Dutcher Middle School Teacher Elias Ruiz served in the Navy as a Corpsman medic and trained for casualty situations, but on a quiet Sunday morning duck hunting trip with a friend on the Tuolumne River, he never expected to use that training.
Ruiz discovered a 49-year-old man laying face down in the water near the area of Fox Grove. He says the man’s body was nearly fully submerged but his upper back and half of his face were held above water by a plant life just off dry land.
“It was real quiet and I was sitting out on the raft waiting for ducks but I kept hearing this sloshing, like gurgling sound about 15 yards to my left and slightly behind me,” said Ruiz. “At first I thought it was a beaver or a cow, but it was a strange sound.”
After the sun came up Ruiz says he stood up to take a look into the plant life and saw the man’s back and he realized the gurgling sound was coming from a human being. He quickly called 911, calmly explained that he had discovered a man in the water, semi-conscious and his location on the river.
“At first I thought he was dead. I’ve worked as a first responder and I though his body was taking ghost breaths,” he explained.
Ruiz says his medical training in the Navy helped him to remain calm and communicate with the 911 operator.
After making his way back to dry land, Ruiz then hopped a barbed-wire fence and pulled the man out of the water and wrapped him up in a blanket.
The man was lucky Ruiz just happened to be at that exact location at that exact time.
“I almost never go there to hunt,” said Ruiz. “We could hear the firemen in the distance and I used by whistle to help them find us.”
Since he is an avid outdoorsman, Ruiz says he has carried a whistle on his keychain for eight years, but he had never used it until that Sunday.
“He was in bad shape, I’d say he was on his way out,” said Ruiz. “No one would have seen him where he was he was so covered up. He was probably in the 50-degree water for about two hours and when I got him out I just but that blanket around him and gave him a big bear hug.”
Ruiz says he visited the man in the hospital Monday night and the man was still in bad shape, but he is expected to live. It is not entirely clear what the man was doing by the river, but it was clear there was a straight, five-foot drop off from the bank and he had somehow slipped and hit his head on a random piece of concrete.
In another twist to the story Ruiz was floating on the river on a “Feather-Raft” he invented that had just earned him a $2,5000 prize in the Stanislaus Innovation Challenge. Had he never invented that raft, he probably wouldn’t have been on the water at that exact moment and time.
On campus, Ruiz’s students are hailing him as a hero — and one student jokingly called him Justin Bieber — for all of his recent media attention from the Feather Raft and now the rescue.
Video courtesy of Elias Ruiz