Clarksville Fire describes diver’s heroic rescue of boat crash survivor

Clarksville Dive Team member hailed as hero for rescue of boat crash survivor

CLARKSVILLE, Ind. (WAVE) - On Monday night, two boaters were sucked into the gates of the McAlpine Dam after their boat malfunctioned and capsized on the Ohio River.

Levell Washington was swept through the gates of the McAlpine Dam before crews could rescue him. (Source: WAVE 3 News)
Levell Washington was swept through the gates of the McAlpine Dam before crews could rescue him. (Source: WAVE 3 News)

“There’s a few times in a firefighter’s career where they make a decision that they know there’s going to be a lot of risk involved with injury or death and Cory faced that decision on Monday,” Clarksville Fire Department Chief Brandon Skaggs said.

Skaggs is talking about Lt. Cory Potts and his heroic rescue of 28-year-old Levell Washington.

Miraculously, Washington survived the boat crash and being sucked through the dam. When he emerged from the other side, he clung to a life vest and called 911.

“Our units were in the right place at the right time,” Skaggs said.

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From the Harrison Avenue boat ramp, firefighters saw Washington coming down the middle of the channel.

The crew made the decision in seconds to send Potts into the river.

“As uncomfortable as that decision was, he made a life changing decision for the person we rescued,” Skaggs said. “It was one of those decisions that was based on a few seconds of assessment and he made the right decision.”

Potts is a longtime firefighter and one of nine rescue divers with the department.

“I think he had a little bit of an adrenaline rush, but it was a positive thing for him to know that he actually made an impact for our community and for the gentleman that he saved,” Skaggs said.

As the search continued for 26-year-old Donald Watson in the following days, Clarksville’s cadaver dog Ferrara was an important asset.

“The oils from the body actually seep up to the surface and she can smell that and tell us when we’re getting close to it,” firefighter Brad Lienhart said.

Ferrara alerted four times during the search.

“We marked the area and we actually made several passes with her just so we could kind of narrow it down and then we can tell DNR and everybody else this is where the highest concentration, the highest possibility the dog says this is where it’s at,” Lienhart said.

Watson’s family and friends were also searching the river. They spotted his body Wednesday around 4:40 p.m. floating just down river from the Sherman Minton Bridge.

For Clarksville Fire and the other agencies involved in the search, bringing resolution to Watson’s loved ones was their priority.

“Anything we can do to get some comfort to the families," Lienhart said. "That’s the whole point of it is to be able to return their loved one back to them.”

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