By Elizabeth Hewitt, VTDigger.org
A Starksboro man has died after jumping into the water off Button Bay State Park to help his son, who was struggling while swimming, according to Vermont State Police. Jason Russell, age 36, died at 4 a.m. Thursday, July 7, after being pulled from the water unresponsive Wednesday at approximately 5 p.m., police said.
Russell’s son was swimming out to a small island near shore at the park in Ferrisburgh when he began having trouble swimming, police reported. The child shouted for help when he was about halfway to the island, prompting Russell to jump in to save him. Russell appeared to struggle as he swam to his son, according to a police report, but made it to the child. He lifted his son up but went under as he did so.
The child’s mother, Aaron Morris, found a kayak and paddled out to where the two were in the water, according to police. The boy held onto the kayak, but Russell was unresponsive. Other boaters saw what was happening and came to help. The child was lifted into a boat, and they were able to transport Russell to the shore.
Vergennes Rescue, the Ferrisburgh Fire Department, Middlebury Rescue and Charlotte Rescue went to the scene and tried to revive him. Both Russell and his son were taken to the University of Vermont Medical Center for treatment, where Russell later died.
Police said they do not believe drugs or alcohol was involved. They said the death was being investigated.
Kyle Wagner, park manager at Button Bay, said two park employees responded to the call and jumped in with civilians to help get the pair out of the water and that one park employee did CPR on Russell. Wagner said he could not comment on the conditions that may have affected the two swimmers Wednesday.
He noted the area does have zebra mussels on the rocks, which can cut swimmers. The area is also sensitive to weather, and storms can come over the nearby Adirondacks quickly, he said.
“You could have calm waters one moment and 10 minutes later have whitecaps,” Wagner said.
He urged people to watch the weather when they go out in the water, to stay near the shore, and to be conscious of their own abilities.