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Evanston cop back at work day after dramatic rescue of boy

Updated: March 7, 2013 2:24AM

Sean O’Brien’s parents made him take swimming lessons in eighth grade, and that paid off on Tuesday, when he rescued a 7-year-old boy who had jumped in the Des Plaines River.

O’Brien, 26, was back at his job as an Evanston Police officer on Wednesday, and he explained more details about how he saved the boy.

He was running errands with his girlfriend on Tuesday when he stopped at a traffic at a light at River Road and Miner Street in Des Plaines, where he spotted a boy dressed in a winter coat, snow pants and orange cap.

“I didn’t know where he came from, but he was in the middle of the road,” O’Brien said. “At first I thought maybe he had hopped out of his family’s car.”

Someone tried to stop the boy, but he eluded him. Then O’Brien got out of his car, leaving his girlfriend to call 911.

He raced after the boy, who had picked up a chunk of snow from the riverbank.

“He was kind of mesmerized by it, looking at it, laughing, playing by himself,” O’Brien said.

Then the boy threw the chunk of snow into the river, jumped in after it and started sinking beneath the water.

O’Brien jumped in after him.

“When I got in, I happened to see his orange Bears hat that was obviously visible under the murky water,” OBrien said Wednesday. “So I asked him for his hand and he poked his head out of the water, put his hand out, and I was able to go out a little further and grab him, pick him up and take him out of the water.”

He carried the boy to his SUV and blasted the heat. O’Brien’s girlfriend calmed down the hysterical boy by introducing him to the couple’s 10-month-old puppy, Shandy, a border collie/lab mix. “The boy couldn’t really complete full sentences to say who he was or where he lives,” O’Brien said Tuesday.

Police and paramedics arrived in moments.

Afterward, O’Brien said, he checked with a Des Plaines officer to make sure the boy was OK. He also received a call from the Des Plaines fire chief, who asked if he could give O’Brien’s phone number to the boy’s mother so she could call him.

“That was just before work today so she might have called already,” he said Wednesday afternoon, about to start his regular shift.

O’Brien didn’t know why the boy was alone in the street.

“Maybe he just got away and was playing outside in the snow,” he said. “Since he was a younger kid, I don’t know he realized it was a body of water or it was that deep.”

O’Brien was credited with another dramatic rescue in 2009, when he broke a window to save a fellow police officer from a burning car after a crash. O’Brien received a department medal of valor for that rescue.

Evanston Police Cmdr. Jay Parrott said the department was waiting to hear from Des Plaines about recognition for O’Brien’s actions on Tuesday.

The rescue serves as “an example that when you’re a policeman you’re a servant to the community, not only on-duty but off-duty also,” Parrott said. “His actions off-duty clearly saved this kid’s life, and we’re proud of that.”

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