The rescuers tried their best Monday night to save a teen they found floating on the Erie Canal at Ellicott Creek Island.
But the young man they pulled from the water died Tuesday night at Erie County Medical Center.
Brian P. Murphy was out on a leisurely kayaking trip Monday evening with his two sons and two of friends, looking for turtles among the logs near shore at Ellicott Creek Island. At about the same time, a 28-year-old Lockport man was riding his bicycle on the nearby bike path off Old Niagara Falls Boulevard.
Little did these two men know that they would meet that night, because of another bicyclist riding on the same path, 18-year-old Matthew Hovagimian.
All apparently were enjoying the gorgeous late-spring night, until Hovagimian fell off his bike and into the water.
Both Murphy and the Lockport man, who didn’t want his name used, know CPR and began the emergency measures to revive Hovagimian. Emergency personnel from the Ellicott Creek Fire Company and Twin City Ambulance responded.
Hovagimian died about 8 p.m. Tuesday in Erie County Medical Center.
“The two of us gave this kid a second chance,” Murphy, a 50-year-old engineer from North Tonawanda, said Tuesday, before word of the teen’s death reached him.
Murphy marveled at the series of unconnected events that brought all three men to the same location, two of them to rescue the third one.
“I’m still kind of freaked out by the whole thing,” he said. “My religious belief is that all those random events had to line up for us to find him.”
Murphy agreed to tell his story, to emphasize two major points: the need to learn, or brush up, on CPR skills and the willingness to help in a life-saving situation.
“We’re not heroes, but there is a component of human nature to help,” he added.
The incident began for Murphy and his fellow kayakers just before 7:45 p.m. Monday.
His son, Shane, 18, on the trip along with brother Bryce, 13, and two of Bryce’s friends, spotted a bicycle at the edge of the water. Brian Murphy was in the lead kayak.
“I looked at the bike, I saw a sneaker, and then I saw a leg,” he recalled. “The gentleman was face-down in the water, between a log and the bank. But his face was submerged.
“I started yelling at him, ‘Are you O.K.?’ Then I took my paddle and nudged his back. There was no response at all.”
Murphy had no idea whether the young man was alive.
Since no one in his crew had brought a cellphone on the kayak trip, he started yelling for help and pleading with anyone to call 911.
That’s when the Lockport man heard the cries, got off his bike and went down the bank to help.
The two rescuers then had to get the unconscious Hovagimian up a steep embankment. One grabbed him under the arms, the other under his hips. Then they carried him up the bank, about 2 feet at a time.
“It was muddy and slippery,” Murphy remembered. “I think adrenaline allowed us to haul this kid up from the water.”
The men rolled Hovagimian onto his side, cleared his airway, started CPR compressions and called 911 on the Lockport man’s cellphone.
The 28-year-old Lockport man even employed one of his CPR instructor’s lessons – timing his chest compressions to the beat of the disco song, “Stayin’ Alive.”
As luck would have it, Ellicott Creek volunteer firefighters were involved in a nearby training session and reached the scene quickly, along with the ambulance crew, managing to revive the young man. Hovagimian had no identification on him at the time of the accident and was initially considered a John Doe. He was taken to DeGraff Memorial Hospital in North Tonawanda and then transferred to ECMC.
Following a preliminary investigation, Amherst police believe the young man may have suffered from some kind of medical condition that led to his falling off his mountain bike on a bike path near the creek.
Authorities don’t know how long he was in the water.
“Judging by his condition, I would guess it wasn’t more than a few minutes,” Amherst Police Capt. Enzio G. Villalta said. “He couldn’t have been in the water for an extended period of time, because they were able to revive him.”
Amherst police are asking anyone with information about the mishap to call them at 689-1311.
Meanwhile, Murphy was hoping that the rescue story might have an effect on others.
“Do your CPR training and be willing to stop and help out,” he advised.