What would you do if you heard someone screaming for help– run to help, run away or freeze in place?
Mike Brooks of Highland Village had no idea that his reaction would be to run down a pier and dive into cold water 15-feet deep to rescue a complete stranger from drowning more than 50-yards from shore.
Brooks had ended his search for new fishing areas on Lake Lewisville on March 2, 2012 earlier than planned, because a strong cold front had passed through the area and by 3:30 p.m. the temperature had dropped into the low 50s. The wind was whipping up waves on the chilly 53-degree lake and he had already loaded his boat onto its trailer and had moved it away from the ramp to finish unloading smaller items. He was heading home to tell his son, Brendan, 12, about the new fishing sites.
“I heard someone screaming hysterically for help back at the lake,” said Brooks. “There were bushes in the way so I couldn’t see why someone was yelling, but I grabbed a flotation seat cushion and ran back toward the lake.”
As he neared the lake, Brooks saw a hysterical man pointing at a boat about 50-yards from shore being pushed farther away by the blustery wind.
“At first, I thought: ‘I wonder if I need to put my boat back in to go get his boat,’” said Brooks.
Then he saw a body floating behind the boat.
“When I saw the guy floating behind the boat, I just started running,” said Brooks. “I dropped my wallet and keys on the pier and dove in. I used the cushion as a kickboard.”
Brooks realized he’d had a short conversation earlier with both the man on the pier, who said he couldn’t swim, and the man in the lake off Pilot Knoll Park— David Baker, 55, who had entered the lake to retrieve his boat that had come loose and was now in deep trouble.
Brooks also quickly realized he should have removed his long pants and boots.
“Imagine Frankenstein trying to swim against a strong wind in very cold water,” he said.
As he got closer, Brooks saw that Baker was floating face down and was now almost completely submerged.
“I started praying that he’d stay up long enough for me to reach him, because I knew I was getting exhausted and if he sank I’d never be able to find him,” said Brooks.
When he did reach Baker, the relief Brooks felt was short-lived.
“As I rolled him over onto his back, I saw that his ear was a deep, bluish purple and that his eyes were partially open and so was his mouth— full of water,” said Brooks. He knew he needed to get Baker back to shore as fast as he could.
As he was heading back to the boat ramp, Brooks spotted an Army Corps of Engineers Park Ranger boat about 125-yards away. While he struggled to keep Baker’s head above water, he started yelling and waving the boat cushion at the two Rangers in their boat; they waved back!
Brooks yelled and waved again frantically. One of the Rangers yelled that Brooks shouldn’t worry about the boat, because they’d be back to get the boat later. Then they started heading the opposite direction.
Brooks realized he was shouting into the wind and the Rangers thought he was just trying to reach the boat.
“I grabbed Baker’s head and lifted him up out of the water and screamed: ‘Forget the boat! I’ve got a drowned man here,’” said Brooks. “They looked at each other just stunned and then gunned their engine toward us.”
To save time, the Rangers grabbed Baker’s shirt to lift his top half from the water and raced toward the shore, while Brooks held onto Baker and the boat.
Brooks and Baker’s friend dragged the lifeless man up the boat ramp to search for vital signs; there were none.
They turned him on his side to face down the ramp and let gravity help the water leave his mouth and lungs.
Brooks began CPR compressions and silently prayed: “Please let this man live, Lord. He just cannot die after all of this!”
After Baker was rolled on his side again to drain more water, he made a faint gurgle sound; then another, followed by more, until he was breathing on his own. He was still unconscious and unresponsive.
The Highland Village Police Department arrived, followed by a fire truck and an ambulance in response to the 9-1-1 call made by two bystanders. Brooks knew that Baker’s friend couldn’t swim, but later when he asked the other two men why they stayed on the pier and just watched, they said it looked like he had the situation under control and they didn’t want to get in his way.
When Brooks was able to step back and speak to Baker’s friend, he learned that Baker was selling his boat because his wife had recently died and he needed to pay off his late wife’s hospital bills.
“I felt so sad when I heard what Mr. Baker had been through losing his wife and then having to sell his boat to pay her bills, I just hoped he’d be okay,” said Brooks. “I don’t know if he has a family, but I just didn’t want them to lose their father right after their mother died.”
When he called the hospital to learn how Baker was doing that evening, Brooks was told privacy rules didn’t allow that information to be released. But, when the police officer who took Brook’s initial statement contacted him for a follow-up, he learned that Baker had survived.
On Apr. 10, the HVPD presented its Citizen Certificate of Merit to Clarence Michael “Mike” Brooks, Jr., for his quick and life-saving actions.
He is quick to say that he doesn’t consider what he did to be heroic.
“I saw the guy was in trouble and I just reacted,” said Brooks. “I believe God just put me there to help. The police are heroes, not me.”
The only thing that didn’t survive the event was the new 4G cell phone Brooks forgot to remove from his pants.
Brooks lives in Highland Village with his family—wife Selena, son and step-daughter Kelley, 19. His business, Brookstar Electric, is on Justin Rd. in Flower Mound.
“After dinner that night, I told my wife Selena that I felt like I’d been through something, but I wasn’t quite sure what had happened to me,” said Brooks. “I guess what I realized is just how easily life can slip away.”