Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

New Orleans PD

Nearly Drowned

Lt. Dwayne Scheuermann with boatload of people
Lt. Dwayne Scheuermann with boatload of people

Lt. Dwayne Scheuermann, assistant commander of the New Orleans Police Department SWAT team, rode the storm out at the New Orleans Sports Arena, across the street from the Superdome.  He brought his 18-foot fishing boat to work with him. 

When the winds dropped to 30 or 40 miles per hour, Lt. Scheuermann, his brother, Officer Darryl Scheuermann, who'd also brought a boat, and a handful of SWAT officers climbed into a couple of trucks and pulled the two boats out into the swirling remnants of the storm.  Scheuermann heard on his police radio that several neighborhoods were already underwater.  The officers headed toward the Lower 9th Ward, one of the lowest-lying parts of the city.  Along the way, they had to stop several times and use chainsaws and bolt cutters to clear uprooted trees and fallen power lines from their path.

When they reached the Lower 9th Ward everything was underwater.

The officers launched their boats from a bridge crossing, and for the next 14 hours they plucked hundreds of stranded residents from the tops of houses and pulled them through holes they cut through roofs.

One rescue almost cost Lt. Scheuermann his life. 

In the sprawling, three-story Calliope housing project, the first floor apartments were flooded.  Scheuermann motored his boat into the housing complex to look for survivors.  What he found shocked him.  "There were literally hundreds and hundreds of people hanging out of their windows screaming for us to pick them up," he says.

Officer Darryl Scheuermann takes citizens to safety
Officer Darryl Scheuermann takes citizens to safety

Scheuermann spotted a group of panicked residents huddled inside a leaking fiberglass boat.  He threw them a rope and started towing them toward dry land, but someone in the overloaded and unstable boat shifted, capsizing it.  Men, women, and children tumbled into the water.  One of them was a seven-year-old boy.  The water was eight feet deep and the boy couldn't swim. 

Scheuermann pulled his gunbelt off and dove into the putrid water.  When he reached the boy, the seven-year-old crawled on top of him.  Then a panicked woman, who had also been thrown from the boat, grabbed Scheuermann and climbed onto him.  Their weight forced him underwater and held him down.  The seconds ticked by.  Scheuermann couldn't reach the surface.  Panic began to creep around the edges of his consciousness.

"I knew I was dying," he recalls.

SomehowScheuermann says he doesn't know exactly howhe managed to get his head above water for just a second, just long enough to shout, "You're drowning me!" 

The woman and the boy ignored him.  They clawed at him, pushing him deeper into the dark water.  But the shout got the attention of Scheuermann's brother and a couple of other SWAT officers, who were also in the water trying to get people out.  They rushed to Scheuermann's aid and dragged the boy and the woman off of him.  When his head broke the surface, Scheuermann sucked in a lungful of air.  He knew he had been only seconds away from drowning.


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