Teens honored for life-saving rescue at Camas Potholes

City's police, fire chiefs credit three Vancouver girls with saving life of father, 5-year-old daughter in July

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Camas Police Chief Mitch Lackey (left) thanks Vancouver teens (from left to right) Hannah Salinas, Hillary Darland and Maddy Gregory for rescuing a 5-year-old girl and her father at the Camas Potholes in July. Lackey, along with Camas Mayor Barry McDonnell (second from right) and Camas-Washougal Fire Chief Nick Swinhart honored the girls on Friday, Aug. 7, with a brief ceremony in front of Camas City Hall. (Photo by Kelly Moyer/Post-Record)

Hannah Salinas said she didn’t think before leaping.

It didn’t matter that the Vancouver teen was standing about 15 feet above the water at the Camas Potholes, an area near Round Lake known as a place where accidents and even fatalities are not uncommon. It didn’t matter that she might get hurt. At that moment, all Salinas, 17, and her friends, Hillary Darland, 18, and Maddy Gregory, 17, knew was that they had to help.

The teens had seen a man and little girl swimming near the base of the waterfalls. The girl started to struggle, they said, and the man seemed to be going to her rescue. 

“The guy came over to get her, but then the current got him, too,” Salinas said.

When both the man and little girl disappeared beneath the water, the three teens sprung into action. 

“I didn’t think about it too much,” Salinas said. “No one was doing anything and (I thought), ‘Someone needs to do something, or they’re going to drown.’ It was just instinct.” 

Within seconds, Salinas had jumped from the 15-foot cliff into the water and was making her way toward the man and little girl. Gregory called 911 for assistance and both Darland and Gregory rushed down the path to assist Salinas. 

Salinas brought the child to the shore and then went back for the man. She helped him make it dry land, too. The man had a pretty severe head injury and was semi-conscious when Salinas brought him to shore, said Camas Police Chief Mitch Lackey. 

“(Camas-Washougal Fire Chief Nick Swinhart) and I agree that what these girls did likely saved two lives that day,” Lackey added. 

Eventually, the teens would meet the man’s wife. She had seen what was happening to her family, but was in the later stages of pregnancy and could not make it to the water in time to help.

Salinas and her friends stayed with the family, talking to the man and helping to keep him conscious, and offering their food to the mother and child, while they all waited for first-responders to arrive. 

At a ceremony held today outside Camas City Hall, Camas Mayor Barry McDonnell, along with Lackey and Swinhart, honored the teens for their heroic rescue.

“We are indebted to Hillary, Maddison and Hannah for their quick thinking and bravery,” McDonnell said. “This kind of selflessness and care for one another is what we strive for in our community.” 

Swinhart and Lackey agreed that, without the Vancouver teens — all of whom met through the Evergreen High School gymnastics program — the situation at the Potholes on July 10 would likely have been dire. 

“We have lost lives there before,” Lackey said. “This could have been a very different ending.” 

Swinhart agreed. He said his crews often need to call in rope-rescue units from Vancouver for rescues at the Potholes and many times help doesn’t arrive in that area for 30 to 35 minutes. 

On that particular day, many of the first-responders from the Camas-Washougal Fire Department who normally would have been first to the scene were occupied with a fire in Fern Prairie, so Camas police officer Carlos Gonzalez was the first to arrive at the Potholes. There, he found the Vancouver teens waiting with the family and helping keep the man comfortable and conscious. Although all three girls trained in first aid and cardiopulmonary resuscitation in high school, the man and his daughter did not need CPR. 

Gonzalez said he was impressed by the teens’ actions and bravery.

“It was great to see young people who were willing to step up and help — and then stay with them until (first-responders) arrived,” Gonzalez said. 

At the ceremony held Friday, the police chief presented the teens with Camas Police Department “challenge coins,” and Swinhart presented them with Lifesaving Effort awards. 

The girls’ families attended the event on Friday and shared their side of the story. 

Steven Salinas, Hannah’s father, said he was proud of his daughter’s actions on that July day at the Potholes. 

“I wasn’t at all worried about hearing that Hannah had jumped from a 15-foot cliff to save lives,” Steven Salinas later told the Post-Record. “I’d already been told she was safe, and Hannah is a strong and intelligent young woman, who I believe would’ve only taken that kind of chance if she thought it was crucial.”

Desirae Gregory, Maddy’s mother, also was bursting with pride for her daughter and her daughter’s friends.  

“You see it so many times where people don’t help. They stand there watching, even taking videos, before they even call for help,” Desirae said. “But (Maddy and her friends) acted. They didn’t think about (their own safety), they just helped. It makes my mama heart proud.” 

Laura Darland, Hillary’s mother, said her daughter didn’t even tell her about the rescue until very recently — when the mayor called to invite Hillary to the ceremony in front of City Hall. 

“She said, ‘Oh, it’s the mayor calling. I’ve got to take this,'” Laura said, laughing. “I was sitting on her bed looking at her like, ‘What?’ and she said, ‘Oh? I forgot to tell you … I saved some people from drowning.'”

As for Hannah, Hillary and Maddy, they are all looking forward — Hannah and Maddy to their senior year at Evergreen High and Hillary to her fall semester at Clark College, where she plans to go to school for two years before transferring to Washington State University to study interior design.