CEDAR RAPIDS — The first thought that chilly March day when he spotted a car maneuvering at the Mohawk Park boat ramp was that “some kids must be ditching” it in the river.
But then he and his buddy drove their ski boat closer.
“We were about 100 yards or so from the ramp,” Ryan Foley, 43, of Cedar Rapids, recalled Tuesday while standing across from the ramp, pointing out how the incident on the Cedar River unfolded March 11.
“I saw the car back up against the fence, by the dirt trail that leads down to the ramp, and they just gunned it toward the water. The rear passenger door opened and a boy popped up. Then I saw (a woman’s) head come up and she had a baby.”
Foley and his friend, Jeremy Beal, made it in their boat over to the car in the water, carefully pulling up close enough to reach the woman and her children.
Foley said he and Beal have experience pulling water skiers from the river, but noted Beal was the “hero” that day because he maneuvered the boat into perfect position to rescue the three without creating more harm.
“At one point I had the baby in one hand and had the other boy by the arm,” Foley said. “And then I grabbed Jeremy’s pants while he reached out to grab her. It was really kind of a miracle that we were out on the river that day and could help.”
He later learned the woman is Alicia Cole, 35, mother of a 12-year-old publicly identified as “G.T.” and 14-month-old identified as “M.D.”
Cole, of Cedar Rapids, pleaded guilty in October to two felony counts of child endangerment causing bodily injury. At her sentencing Tuesday, she wasn’t sent to prison. Instead, 6th Judicial District Judge Mary Chicchelly suspended the up-to-10 year prison term and gave her three years of probation.
During the October hearing, Cole admitted to driving her car into the river, which resulted in injuries to her children. G.T. had injury to his abdomen and suffered hypothermia and M.D. had a bruise to his head.
"No amount of words can be said to express my remorse of using meth."
Assistant Linn County Attorney Rene Schulte said after the plea hearing that G.T. told police his mother made them get in the car that day, and started driving fast to Mohawk Park. The boy said the toddler wasn’t buckled into his child’s seat, so he was holding him but couldn’t continue as the car went into the river.
Jason Tallon, G.T.’s father, teared up throughout making his victim’s impact statement. He said he is angry at Cole for putting his child through a “near-death experience” and for how it has affected the child.
“If it wasn’t for the heroic boaters in the water that day, I would be going to visit a grave,” Tallon, with tears in his eyes, said.
David Grinde, Cole’s attorney, said she had a methamphetamine-induced psychotic breakdown that day according to a psychologist’s evaluation. She also has been diagnosed with substance abuse, anxiety and depression, he said.
Grinde, who asked for a deferred judgment, said Cole had changed her life since the crash and was now in Linn County Family Treatment Court, substance abuse treatment and therapy and working to get her children back with her.
Cole, at sentencing, said all she ever wanted was to be a mother.
“No amount of words can be said to express my remorse of using meth,” she said.
Cole, who has been sober for over eight months, said she prays every day and asks for forgiveness. She also vowed to stay in treatment and be involved in church. She also hopes to warn others about how substance abuse can affect someone’s life.
She asked Judge Chicchelly for probation.
Chicchelly said there were two felony convictions and two victims, but that she had a variety of sentencing options — all of which she said she carefully considered.
After reviewing the evaluations from psychologists and treatment counselors, along with the presentencing investigation and victim impact statements, she decided suspending the prison terms and sentencing Cole to probation was appropriate.
As opposed to a deferred judgment, the judge said, there should be a constant reminder that Cole got involved with a “toxic substance that can ruin lives.” She was giving Cole an opportunity, she said, because she has seen Cole’s “hard work and her effort to make amends.”
“Work hard to repair that trust with your children,” Chicchelly said.
Foley, Beal and another boat with four people aboard were the only ones out on the river that day. The people in the second boat called 911 and gave Foley towels and blankets for Cole and the kids.
“We were just messing around, testing out the boat,” Foley said.
Foley said what bothered him at the time was that the crash seemed intentional, especially after hearing what Cole said to her oldest son.
“She was talking gibberish and didn’t seem quite right, but then told him to ‘go toward the light’ and they needed to ‘finish the job. The boy told her she was ‘scaring’ him.”
“She was talking gibberish and didn’t seem quite right, but then told him to ‘go toward the light’ and they needed to ‘finish the job,’” Foley said. “The boy told her she was ‘scaring’ him.”
Foley said the incident stayed in his head for weeks. He couldn’t sleep.
He acknowledged he didn’t know much about court proceedings, but was perplexed after watching Tuesday’s sentencing hearing.
It was difficult, he said, to hear Cole talk about this “evil act” — and that she was upset she hadn’t completed it.
Foley, Beal and the others in the second boat — Josh Jensen, Robert Walton, Daren Mangold and Anna Praegitzer — were honored Tuesday night by the Cedar Rapids Fire Department as heroes for their rescue on the river that day.
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