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Wichita police officer who pulled boy from creek to be honored

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Wednesday, May 14, 2014, at 7:03 p.m.
  • Updated Sunday, July 6, 2014, at 7:14 a.m.

Photos

Gold Award

for “uncommon valor in the line of duty”

Sedgwick County Sheriff’s Deputy John Scaglione : Scaglione pulled the driver of an overturned cement truck out of the cab just before it was hit by an oncoming train in south Wichita on Jan. 25, 2013.

Sedgwick County Sheriff’s Deputy Benjamin Romero: Romero responded to the robbery of the First Choice Credit Union on April 3, 2013, and spotted the suspect near the credit union running with a black bag. As Romero followed the man through rush-hour traffic, the suspect fired at him – then killed himself as Romero returned fire. An investigation revealed the suspect had a violent criminal history and had beaten credit union employees while stealing more than $100,000.

Wichita police officer Richard Moscicki Jr.: Moscicki was among a group of officers who negotiated with an armed, suicidal man early on the morning of Jan. 28, 2013. Finally, after negotiating without success for 45 minutes, Moscicki rushed the man and used his Taser. Other officers helped tackle the man and prevent the death or injury of the man or the officers.

Wichita Police Officer Brian Goward

Wichita Police Officer Russell Huff

Wichita Police Officer Patrick Phipps

Wichita Police Officer Jamie Crouch

Sedgwick County Sheriff’s Deputy Hank Cocking

Sedgwick County Sheriff’s Deputy Justin Maxfield

Wichita Police Lt. Kevin Vaughn

The seven law enforcement officers above are being honored along with eight agents from the Kansas Bureau of Investigation for their roles in a standoff that lasted more than 30 hours at Southlake Village apartments, 4141 S. Seneca, last July. Jared Woosypiti was ultimately killed in an exchange of gunfire with authorities at about 10 p.m. on July 11. About 150 law enforcement officers from 18 agencies were involved.

Sedgwick County Sheriff’s Deputy Lucas Powell: Powell attempted a traffic stop near I-135 and 125th Street North on March 11, 2013, but the driver would not stop. A lengthy pursuit at high speeds ended on dirt roads near Potwin, where Powell was shot and wounded as he and his service dog, Riggs, chased the man and woman on foot. In spite of his wounds, Powell made sure a nearby farmer was safe and directed other law enforcement officers in the general direction of the suspects.

Silver Award

for “extraordinary action which directly contributed to the significant prolonging or actual saving of a life”

Wichita Police Officer Darren Sundquist: For rescuing 3-year-old Max Pierson from rain-swollen Gypsum Creek in east Wichita last July.

Bronze Award

Recognizing “outstanding achievement above and beyond normal law enforcement responsibilities and duties”

Unit Citations

Harvey County Emergency Response Team

Wichita Police Department bomb squad

Wichita Police Department Negotiators Unit

Newton/Harvey County Emergency Response Team

Wichita Police Department SWAT team

Southern Kansas SWAT team

Derby Police Department SWAT team

Butler County Sheriff’s Office SWAT team

Hutchinson Police Department/Reno County Sheriff’s Office Emergency Response Team

McPherson Police Department Emergency Response Team

Given for their roles in the extended standoff in south Wichita last July.

Source: Kansas Association of Chiefs of Police

Watching little Max run around, you’d never know he cheated death last summer.

“We don’t see any difference in him at all,” Jennifer Pierson said of her 4-year-old son.

He’s taking swimming lessons now and shows no fear of the water, she said. Given what he went through, that’s no small achievement.

On July 26, Max was taking a walk with his grandfather along Gypsum Creek, at the end of the 8300 block of East Gilbert, when Max broke ahead. He slipped on the slick grass and rolled down the embankment into the fast-moving water.

His grandfather also slipped on the grass and fell down the embankment, his daughter Jennifer Pierson said. By the time he got back up, he had lost sight of Max.

Among those to respond was Officer Darren Sundquist, who raced from Kellogg and Woodlawn to the west side of the creek – even though the 911 call had come from the opposite side. He scanned the water, then asked others along the bank if they saw a boy in the water. They shook their heads no.

Sundquist ran south along the bank perhaps 200 yards until someone pointed to the water.

“When I saw him, he was completely under” the water, his shorts caught on some jagged rocks, Sundquist said.

Max was face down and unconscious in more than 2 feet of water. Carefully picking his steps from one rock to another, Sundquist waded out and lifted Max from the water.

It wasn’t until later, he said, that he realized how deep the water actually was.

“Money in my back pocket was wet,” Sundquist said. “It was a lot deeper than I even expected.”

For his efforts, Sundquist is being honored Thursday by the Kansas Association of Chiefs of Police with the Silver Award, given for “extraordinary action which directly contributed to the significant prolonging or actual saving of a life.”

Max’s story seemed unlikely to have a happy ending. He wasn’t breathing when Sundquist pulled him from the water.

Sundquist has young children of his own, and he said it was wrenching to see Max submerged in the creek.

“You don’t want to see any kid go through that,” Sundquist said. “For him to be so small and helpless – and not be able to do anything …”

Although medical crews got his heart started again, Max wasn’t breathing on his own.

By the time he arrived at Wesley Medical Center, his mother said, “he was still very deeply in a coma.”

Doctors tried to be optimistic, she said, but in hindsight “they were not hopeful at all.”

Max wasn’t responding even after nearly an hour of treatment in the emergency room, she said. He was kept sedated for a few days before they slowly brought him out of the coma to check his responses.

When he woke up, “he started talking immediately,” even though he still had a breathing tube, she said.

“He had his eyes locked on mine,” she said. “You could tell he was still in there.”

Sundquist said Max’s parents later told him that doctors found deadly bacteria that the boy had ingested while in the floodwater. That – more than the near-drowning – is why he didn’t leave the hospital for 10 days after he fell into the creek, his mother said.

Pierson said she was happy to learn Sundquist is being honored for his efforts.

“He went above and beyond the call of duty,” Pierson said of Sundquist.

But the officer said he was simply doing his job.

“There were a lot of things that lined up and worked out just right” for Max to survive, he said.

It all happened so quickly, Pierson said, that the family has never really had a chance to say “thank you” to everyone who helped save her son.

“I’m not sure that there’s a day that goes by that we’re not grateful that it somehow turned out OK,” she said.

Seeing Gypsum Creek that full last summer wasn’t anything new to Roy Boren, Max’s grandfather.

“We’ve seen it that full two or three times,” said Boren, who’s 74. “It used to run pretty full down there when my daughter was little.”

Jennifer admitted she still can’t believe “this horrible accident” occurred at the creek that was such an integral part of her childhood. The Gypsum down the street is a narrow rivulet of water with banks that are very different from each other. The west side slopes gently to the creek’s edge, but the east side – running parallel to Mansfield Street – is much steeper.

Boren admits he doesn’t reflect much about last summer’s close call.

“I’d just as soon forget it,” he said.

But Max remembers.

“He has made comments a couple of times about falling into” the creek, Pierson said. “We were hoping he’d forgotten it.”

Yet he has no qualms about crossing the footbridge over the creek. The brush with tragedy seems to be a footnote in his young life, she said.

Two months after the incident, Max’s parents brought him to the Patrol East Bureau to meet the police officer who pulled him from the water.

“It was shocking” to see the boy acting so normally, Sundquist said. “He has a lot of energy.”

Every now and then, Sundquist said, his work will take him past Gilbert Street. He’ll wonder for a few moments how Max is doing and what he’ll do with his second chance at life.

“I want him to go ahead and live his life,” Sundquist said. “I have done what I needed to do.”

In his 15 years as a police officer, he said, “it’s probably the happiest outcome, for sure.

“I’ve seen a lot, obviously, and most of them are just not the best of outcomes.”

After surviving a near-drowning and numerous deadly bacteria, Sundquist said, it’s clear to him Max has a special purpose in life.

Maybe he’ll even run for president some day, he said.

“I’d vote for him,” Sundquist said.

Reach Stan Finger at 316-268-6437 or sfinger@wichitaeagle.com. Follow him on Twitter: @StanFinger.

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