CUMMING, IOWA — What was a normal evening for Jason McLendon and his wife Jana quickly turned, as the couple had to jump into action in an attempt to save three people in the water at Dale Maffitt Reservoir.
On Monday at 6:48 p.m., the Dallas County Dispatch got a call requesting help for three individuals that were fishing at Moffitt Lake, fell in the water, and were struggling to stay afloat. The Dallas County Sheriff’s Office said that a passerby helped two subjects out of the water and then dove to the bottom and pulled out the third person who was underwater for several minutes. Authorities said that the 14-year-old female who was underwater died at Mercy Hospital after lifesaving efforts.
That passerby was McLendon.
“My wife and I were driving back from a friend’s house,” said McLendon. “I came across the dam here. I noticed a lady with a fishing pole ahead of us, walked out halfway in the road, walked back, looked a little confused. Thought they were just fishing. I get halfway down (the dam) and I see a man and a young boy running this way with a rope in their hand.”
McLendon said that the young boy told him to come over and help. Without hesitating McLendon backed up his car, he and his wife got out and saw a lady screaming hysterically, pointing down at the water. McLendon looked down and saw two people in the water.
“I looked and there’s a man and his boy in the water out about ten feet, they’re going under,” said McLendon. “And I’m thinking right away, having been a former lifeguard, I’ve got to get in there and get them out.”
McLendon was a lifeguard 30 years ago, along with being a military veteran. He said his wife Jana told him “go” and he did.
“I saw a family in distress, they needed help,” said McLendon. “..everything felt automatic when I was swimming out there to them….and thank goodness we had the rope there.”
The man and young boy who had flagged down the McLendons had tied the rope to a pole on the roadway above. That allowed McLendon to use it as a way to pull the two people in the water to shore. The steepness of the dam prevented anyone who was in the water from getting out without assistance. The rope was critical in McLendon’s ability to pull the two to safety.
“So we pulled him out and I told the father to stay there because he was exhausted,” said McLendon. He had to catch his own breath as well, once the boy and man were safe. For a moment McLendon believed the rescue efforts were over. But the woman above was still screaming. The family spoke Spanish, McLendon does not, so it took the younger daughter of the family who was fishing to tell him that there was another girl submerged in the water.
“I took some breaths and I swam out to near where she was pointing at. And I dove down in this water, so murky, you could see about three feet,” said McLendon.
Emergency responders were now on the scene and telling McLendon to stop diving because a water rescue team is on the way.
After several attempts at diving down and not finding the girl, McLendon was holding onto the side of a fisherman’s canoe who eventually made his way over. Finally, McLendon believed he saw the girl underwater.
“I knew it was her because the whole bottom of the water was green,” said McLendon as he described seeing a black circle the size of a dinner plate at the bottom of the water. “That (the shape) was out of place and I just had it in my mind ‘go down and get up as fast as you can and then head to shore.'”
“I told the officer we don’t have time for that I got to go back. I didn’t have a choice. They needed help and I was here,” said McLendon. “…I wasn’t going to come out of the water without finding her.”
McLendon executed his plan. Once he got near the shadowy figure he realized it was the girl. He grabbed her by the wrist and pulled her up to the shore where authorities used the rope to pull her to the road and started performing CPR.
“I just wanted her to be okay and safe. That’s all I was thinking about the whole time. And when I was in the water resting afterwards, that’s just all I thought about,” said McLendon. “And said a prayer for her and her family….if it was my family I would want someone to help in the same way. I mean, there’s still good people in this world. People still do help each other out.”
At the time McLendon talked with WHO 13 News, there was no news yet on the condition of the 14-year-old girl. He reached out to the station trying to see if he could find an update on the girl’s condition. The image of the girl that he had pulled from the water burned into his head, and her well-being was all that he had cared about.
“There’s always that part of your mind: What if?” said McLendon. “What if I had been here five minutes earlier? What if I could have rested a little less time to get out there just increase chances? And you think about that too. But I have an encouraging wife, and she immediately reminded me that, you know, we got two out immediately. So that’s the important part.”
While the end result is what no one wanted. The McLendon’s believe in “right place, right time.” They know that’s exactly where they needed to be at that exact moment in time.