Former Friday Harbor High School baseball standout saves life on Fidalgo Island lake

Editor's note: The embedded video shows people jumping off of the cliff at Whistle Lake. The man who almost drowned jumped off this cliff at the lake. However, the video is unrelated to the incident.

Forrest Crawford was known for his quick reflexes and nifty plays in the infield that saved many a run during a standout career with the Friday Harbor Wolverines baseball team.

His most impressive save, however, occurred just recently and far from the baseball diamond.

The soon-to-be Skagit Valley College graduate took the lead in what proved to be a life-saving rescue of a 19-year-old man who nearly drowned on Memorial Day after jumping off a cliff at Whistle Lake near Anacortes. The man hit the water awkwardly and, as Crawford recalls, slipped below the surface of the water after bobbing once or twice.

"When he came up he looked kind of dazed, but we thought he would be all right," he said.

But he wasn't. Crawford, at the lake on Memorial Day to enjoy the holiday and a swim, didn't hesitate. Neither did the teammates from his junior college baseball squad that were there with him.

"Then he went down again and we saw some air bubbles rising to the surface. I grabbed Dusty and said 'Let's go'."

Somehow, Crawford said, the man struggled to the surface a few moments after he and Dusty Kerns dove in. They both grabbed him and, with his 160-pound frame totally limp and the man seemingly lifeless, towed him about 35 feet through the water and onto shore.

"It was like being on auto pilot," he said. "It was second nature. He was in distress and we just went. There wasn't a lot of thought process, really."

Crawford and Kerns conjured up whatever first-aid training they had and began to administer CPR. At the same time, two other teammates took off running to the other end of the lake and raced down a trail, and across a gravel road, to meet the paramedics and firefighters headed to the scene and to guide them to the location.

At first, Kerns and Crawford were on their own. Crawford, a 2007 Friday Harbor High grad, scoured his memory banks for whatever valuable information they contained of an online first-aid course he completed as a high school freshman. Meanwhile, a woman who used a cell-phone to call 911 from the lake was transferred to a paramedic, who then coached Crawford and Kerns in treating the man, who at that time was cold, unconscious and without a pulse.

"I knew enough that we had to keep his head back, clear his airways of water and that we had to beat on his chest," Crawford said. "We were trying to keep him alive until the paramedics arrived. That was our focus."

Paramedics arrived about 30 minutes later. The lake, situated south of the city, is a popular summertime swimming hole despite, or perhaps because of, its remote, back-road location, according to Capt. John Small of the Anacortes Police Department. It's a long trek to the cliffs on foot even after a couple-mile drive along a gravel road to the trailhead, he said.

"My understanding is that when our dispatch got the 911 call, CPR was already in progress at the scene," Small said. "That was phenomenal what those guys did to help keep that young man alive until help arrived."

Though unconscious, Josh Evans, the 19-year-old man, had a pulse and was breathing when he left the lake. He was treated at Island Hospital in Anacortes and later that day transferred to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle. According to Crawford, who met Evans briefly just before the near-fatal plunge, Evans regained consciousness the day after the episode at the lake and was released from Harborview the following day.

"It was the craziest experience to have this guy go from ice cold and lifeless, to warm and to feel his blood circulating right in my arms," Crawford said. "It was a life-altering experience. I feel like I have a connection with this guy now."

That Crawford would be the first to come to someone's aid in a life-threatening situation comes as no surprise to Friday Harbor baseball coach Rich Warin. Nor does the fact that Crawford is quick to share any credit with his teammates.

"He's that type of kid," Warin said.

Not bad for a guy who also underwent surgery just seven weeks ago to repair a shoulder injury. Crawford missed nearly all of the Cardinals' season this year, but was able to redshirt because of the injury. He will graduate with honors from Skagit Valley College later this spring. The art student favors ceramics, charcoal drawings and photography.

With the surgery an apparent success, Crawford also hopes to be back on the ball field soon. He intends to pursue a four-year degree on the East Coast beginning this fall, at either Malloy College or Cornell University. He's been accepted at Malloy and is waiting on Cornell's answer.

"They haven't said 'No' yet," he said.

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