Boogie’s Bash valets save Aspen boy’s life (video)
While last week’s Boogie’s Bash is likely to make a difference in the lives of numerous children in the Roaring Fork Valley, it just may have saved one teen’s life.
Two Denver valets on their way to work the party Thursday, which raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for underprivileged kids, stopped at the Devil’s Punchbowl to check it out and ended up rescuing an Aspen teenager named “Michael” after he inadvisedly jumped in to the raging waters.
“He gave me a hug and said, ‘Thank you. You saved my life,’” said Dylan Gaffney, 27, an employee of Jay’s Valets in Denver. “I hope someone else would have done the same for me.”
Gaffney said he was telling the group of valets in his van about the Punchbowl as they were driving over Independence Pass, and decided that they had time to stop and take a look. He said he’d been there before but has never jumped in to the popular cliff-diving and swimming spot.
Gaffney said he recognized that the water was too high for swimming, but noticed a kid wearing orange shorts on the other side of the river with two friends who looked like he was ready to jump.
“Literally 45 seconds later, he jumped,” Gaffney said. “(I thought) that’s a bad idea. You shouldn’t be doing that.”
He said he saw the kid pop up and try to swim out but couldn’t. The kid grabbed hold of a boulder, but he couldn’t hold on and got swept underneath the rock.
“I thought, ‘I’m not going to watch this kid die,’” Gaffney said.
The kid popped up on the other side of the boulder and tried to swim, but was swept downriver. That’s when Gaffney jumped into action.
He began running down the shore and screaming at the boy to swim to the left. The boy grabbed another smaller rock, but slipped again and was swept about 100 yards downriver.
The boy was again able to grab hold of a rock, but he didn’t have a good grip on it and kept slipping. Gaffney waded out into the river, wrenching his ankle between two rocks, and was able to reach a large rock in the middle of the river. He said he grabbed a large branch and tried to extend it to the boy, but he couldn’t reach him.
“That was when he looked at me dead in the eyes and said, ‘Don’t let me die. I don’t want to die,’” Gaffney said.
Gaffney said he tried to calm the boy down, then noticed his friend and fellow valet, Nick Diercks, 22, coming out into the river toward him. At that point, Gaffney grabbed hold of the rock with one hand and Diercks wrist with the other.
Diercks reached out and said he told the boy to grab his wrist. Gaffney was then able to haul them both to safety. Diercks then got a rope from some people nearby, tied it around his waist and threw it to the kid, who wrapped it around his body and they were able to haul him ashore.
“He said, ‘Thank you. I thought I was going to die,’” Diercks said.
They then walked him up to where his friends were waiting at a white Toyota Tacoma pickup, advised him to eat some sugar and the boy and his friends left. Diercks said the boy told him he was from Aspen, while Gaffney said the boy told him his name was “Michael.”
“We’ve all been that age and done stupid stuff,” Diercks said.
Both Diercks and Gaffney said separately that the boy likely would have died had they not jumped into action.
“He’d have been dead, one-hundred percent,” Gaffney said. In an email, Gaffney said he felt like the boy’s guardian angel.
Aspen Fire Chief Rick Balentine said Tuesday he’s been monitoring the river levels at the Punchbowl daily in order to determine when to mount an operation to look for the body of an Aspen man who is believed to have jumped in to the Punchbowl on June 4 and hasn’t been seen since.
“I wouldn’t jump into it,” Balentine said.
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Cam Daniel is a former youth addiction counselor who’s been a Pitkin County sheriff’s deputy for three years.