Three children, ages 11, 13 and 14, clung Tuesday to the slippery bottom of a canoe in Lake Pend Oreille.
A wave had dumped them into the cold water, and Sheree Simcox, the oldest, struggled to help her little brother, Terry.
The kids had no life jackets; 11-year-old Terry Simcox, who could barely swim, kept sliding off into the water. No help was in sight.
“Terry kept saying, ‘Sissy, I love you. I don’t know how much longer I can stay on the boat’,” said a shaken mother, Sharon Simcox. “We have a lot to be thankful for today.”
Her two kids and Derrick Stangel, 13, were safe Wednesday because of a vacationing Englishwoman, Judy Brooks, 34, her aunt Maisy Jones and friend David McNelis, 65.
It was Brooks’ first day in Sandpoint. The three were walking Sandpoint’s Long Bridge and noticed the kids canoeing about 300 yards away. The kids apparently borrowed a neighbor’s canoe and were pretending to fish on the big lake.
“On the way back I thought I saw a log in the water. Then I realized, ‘My God, that boat’s overturned.’ I could see kids trying to get back on it,” Brooks said.
A wet and cold Sheree Simcox was waving at bridge walkers from the water, trying to get attention.
“Oh dear God, please let them know we need help,” she mumbled to herself, telling her mother later that other people passed by, not taking them seriously.
Brooks and McNelis dashed to the south end of the Long Bridge and called 911 from the Longhorn restaurant. They were told that marine boats cruising the 43-mile long lake were 20 to 30 minutes away.
“The kids clearly weren’t going to make it that long,” McNelis said. He sprinted a half-mile to his home on Fry Creek to get his boat.
Brooks tried flagging down a car for a ride. The driver refused when he was unable to understand her British accent.
“David just kept running. He was fantastic,” she said. “He’s not a spring chicken, you know.”
When they reached the house, McNelis and Brooks ripped the cover off a 22-foot Starcraft, fired it up and sped off. The kids were about a mile away, and 20 minutes had already passed.
“The girl called out, ‘help us, help us.’ They were clinging for their lives on that canoe,” Brooks said. “The young boy was shaking, just absolutely shaking.”
The girl told McNelis to help her brother first. The boy’s fingernails had turned blue and he was close to hypothermia, said Marine Deputy Larry Schulze.
“Frankly, if those people didn’t help, we would have lost those kids. There’s no doubt in my mind,” Schulze said.
The three were in the lake for about an hour. Sheree Simcox had swallowed quarts of water from swimming under her brother to push his body back onto the capsized canoe.
McNelis rushed the youngsters to his house where they got hot showers, were stuffed into sleeping bags and given hot tea. The three were later treated and released from Bonner General Hospital.
“It was pretty scary for the kids and they have learned a great lesson from this,” said Sharon Simcox on her way to deliver a bouquet of flowers to her children’s rescuers.
She was at work during the incident and didn’t know her children went boating.
“If Judy wouldn’t have looked out on the water and seen the canoe those kids would have been history,” McNelis said. “I guess she was supposed to come visit for a reason.”
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