NASHVILLE, Tenn.–A Clarksville mother is thankful her son is alive today thanks to the heroism of a Ft. Campbell soldier who saved the boy from drowning in the Red River.
Martie Weeks says the unthinkable happened while she, her three sons, and some friends went inner tubing Sunday afternoon. One of her sons, 17-year-old Ronnie, is autistic. Martie says the family tested the waters before making the decision to take a leisurely float down the river to Billy Dunlap Park.
Weeks says the waters were calm and she had no reservations about taking to the water with Ronnie since they’ve been tubing before at Hurricane Bay and Kentucky Kingdom. “I’ve never catered to his disability or been a crutch. They said he would never read or do other things but he has always excelled. He was fine tubing when we’ve visited water parks.” Weeks says.
Plus, Weeks was with a group of eight people that included a friend who is a Ft. Campbell medic, her 16-year-old and 24-year-old sons, and others.
Everyone placed their tubes in the water and the group was paddling down the gentle waters, Ronnie holding on to his mother and she holding on to him. But as they went down the river, Weeks says a large tree became visible, splitting the river into two sections.
“The current picked up and the tree along with the rocks at the bottom of the river create a kind of rip tide,” Weeks says. With the current too strong, the group became separated. Weeks and her son Ronnie were ripped apart, Weeks going to one side, Ronnie the other.
Weeks says she grabbed on to a branch on the tree and tried to paddle to her son, who was just 30 feet away. Weeks says Ronnie tried to stand up in the waist-deep water but was taken under by the current. Struggling to raise his head above water, Weeks said she watched as her son slowly stopped struggling and became immobile, face down in the river.
Weeks says she was screaming for help but people on the river bank couldn’t hear her. Just feet away, and unable to fight the current, Weeks feared she was watching her son die.
That’s when a good Samaritan came diving into the river and rushed to Ronnie’s aid. Weeks says the man picked Ronnie up from behind and as he was holding him above water, was “putting hard jerks of pressure” on Ronnie’s chest. “He was doing a kind of Heimlich on my son. Keep in mind my son outweighed him by probably fifty pounds,” Weeks says.
“My son was red and purple when I saw his face.” Weeks says finally, after several thrusts, Ronnie spit out water and started coughing, gasping for air. Weeks says her oldest son was able to return to them and he too jumped in the water, helping the good Samaritan get his brother to shore.
That man who saved Ronnie is Timothy Hansen, a soldier at Ft. Campbell. Even after his heroic actions, Hansen wasn’t done helping.
As Hansen took her son to safety, Weeks had become separated from her inner tube and her only recourse was swimming to the bank on the opposite side of where her son was taken. With Ronnie now safe, Weeks says there was no way for the two parties to meet on dry land. That only left the river as a means of getting back to the family car.
Weeks says Hansen grabbed an inner tube of his, gave it to Weeks and helped Ronnie get back on his tube which had been retrieved by another stranger. Hansen then walked on the river bank, pulling mom and son down the river via a rope until they got to a spot where they could get on land.
Once at the park, Weeks says her son grabbed Hansen, hugging him and would not let go. Weeks says her son told Hansen “You know you’re my hero. I love you. We should be friends, you saved my life.”
Weeks doesn’t know if Hansen could tell her son was autistic, and hopes he knows her son’s words were truly heartfelt. She says Hansen’s mother was also at the scene and wasn’t surprised at her son’s heroism.
“That’s what he does. He saves people’s lives,” Hansen’s mother told Weeks. Weeks’s oldest son is also employed at Ft. Campbell and the two started talking. As it turns out, Hansen is a 10 year veteran of the Army, serving at Ft. Campbell as a Staff Sergeant for HHC Company’s 2-327 Infantry.
Hansen took a photo with Weeks and her son after the ordeal and the two connected with each other on social media. But Weeks says she wanted to share his heroic actions with his superiors and the community about the “angel” among us.
“He was the only one who helped us and I don’t think he realizes how what he did isn’t the norm in today’s world. There were other people in the water in kayaks who just watched, taking out their phones and recording it all. They didn’t help, but he did,” Weeks says.
Weeks is trying to find Hansen’s company and his commander. She wants to make sure Hansen is recognized and hopes others realize the potential dangers lurking in what look to be calm waters.
“I can’t tell you how thankful I am for this man or how many times I hugged and thanked him. Nor can I tell how horrific it is to stand helpless by while watching one of your children drowning and I hope no one ever experiences this.