Cherryville’s Brad (Rusty) Bakewell with his twin St. Bernard’s

Cherryville’s Brad (Rusty) Bakewell with his twin St. Bernard’s

A man, his dogs and the icy creek

Brad (Rusty) Bakewell’s story should serve as a reminder to everyone about the dangers of ice-covered creeks.

Brad (Rusty) Bakewell’s story should serve as a reminder to everyone about the dangers of ice-covered creeks.

Bakewell’s story begins on a frosty Saturday, around 10 a.m., on his 10-acre parcel of land in Cherryville that borders Cherry Creek.

The 45-year-old concrete form worker was preparing for a trip into Lumby with his wife, Kim, and then on to Kelowna to do some holiday visiting with friends, something he didn’t get to do over Christmas because of work commitments in Alberta.

Before heading out, Bakewell took his five dogs – his kids, he calls them – out for a morning stroll on the property.

Four of the dogs are St. Bernards. There are the brothers, Ralph and Norman, 16-months old; Max, the oldest at four; and Daisy, the female, who is two; The other is Jasper, a three-year-old black Lab.

Bakewell and the dogs were coming up the property from the backside of the creek, a stretch of water that is very deep and bottlenecks. A huge storm in 2012 brought a huge tree down across the creek where a number of dead branches and debris created an icejam.

The dogs were playing and barking at neighbour Kim Martin’s dogs, who were also outside, and went down to the creek covered by ice.

Bakewell saw Ralph over by a horse pen, and he stood on the creek bank scouring the horizon at eye level for the other dogs.

That’s when he heard a whimper.

Bakewell looked down and saw Daisy and Norman in the creek, both having fallen through the ice.

“I spread myself out on the ice distributing my weight and crawled out with my shoulders spread wide,” said Bakewell. “The ice broke away at my hip and I did a face-first somersault into the water.”

Bakewell, wearing a plaid wool jacket, hoody, longjohns and  construction boots, said the current dragged him about 15 feet down under the ice.

He kept banging and kicking at the ice as he was being carried downstream, finally breaking through just before the ice and log jam.

Bakewell started upstream, smashing the ice with his forearms and was able to get to Daisy and Norman. As he got to the submerged dogs, Max and Jasper came towards Bakewell. They jumped off the land onto the ice and went through.

Now Bakewell had four dogs in the water.

He took Daisy and Norman and put them up on the ice on their front forearms, making sure they were safe before heading back upstream. Bakewell grabbed Max, normally a 230-pound St. Bernard but now about about 300-pounds soaking wet, picked him up and threw him to the shore. Bakewell did the same with Jasper.

He went back to where Daisy was struggling to stay on the ice, grabbed her and made his way through the ice to the shore, put her down and went back to get Norm.

As he did this, Bakewell saw Ralph fall through the ice and into the frigid water.

He made sure Norman was safe on the ice and got Daisy to the shore. He then dove back into the water to get Ralph, who had not surfaced.

With his eyes opened under the water, Bakewell said it was like “needles stabbing me in the eyes,” so he closed them and just “reached out to a shadow,” which happened to be Ralph. Bakewell grabbed Ralph’s ear and hauled him up through a hole in the ice Bakewell was lucky to find.

Bakewell had put Ralph safely on the ice when he ran into Norm, who had fallen back into the water. He got Norm to a point he thought he was safe on the ice, then Bakewell clambered out of the water and collapsed.

“I was so exhausted I couldn’t move, I couldn’t get up,” said Bakewell.

At this point, as he’s telling his story to a reporter, Bakewell begins to break down. As he was exhausted on shore, he lifted his head and saw Norm back into a hole and disappear into the water.

Neighbour Kim Martin had now arrived on the scene and was screaming. She got all of Bakewell’s clothes off, couldn’t get the boots off as they were frozen to his body, wrapped him in blankets and refused to let her neighbour get up.

“I went to crawl back in the creek and she wouldn’t let me go,” said Bakewell through tears. “She hung onto me. Norm disappeared and was gone. I couldn’t get him out.”

The other four dogs were picked up by neighbours. Bakewell went to a medical facility to be checked out. The estimated time Bakewell was in the creek was between four and six minutes.

Norm’s body was recovered by family friend Fin Przybille, who was thanked by Bakewell and his wife for his support, along with Anya Fletcher, and Daryll and Chrissy Wilcox.

Bakewell said he can’t explain what he went through. He said his brain blocked out the memory of going under the ice. He didn’t realize the full scope of what had happened until he went over to Martin’s place that night to thank her for saving his life.

Bakewell theorizes if somebody’s kid fell through some ice, nobody would hesitate to go in after them. It’s something you do.

“You don’t know what you have inside of you until you’re presented with that situation,” he said. “Some people crawl into burning buildings to save people. They’re just being themselves.”

Bakewell hopes telling his story will help with his grieving.

He also hopes it will serve as a reminder to everyone, especially kids, that ice on top of a creek is dangerous, and substantially different from ice on a lake.