Inmates on work crew save 3 boys from frigid Washington river

Nelson Pettis, Larry Bohn and Jon Fowler speak to KPTV.

Nelson Pettis, Larry Bohn and Jon Fowler speak to KPTV.  (kptv)

Rescue officials say a group of inmates on a prison work crew dove into a fast-moving, frigid Washington state river to save three young brothers who were dumped in the water after their canoe capsized. 

KPTV reports the inmate crew from Larch Corrections Center was finishing their work for the day near the river when they heard the children's screams. 

"We just thought it was some kids screaming until we seen their two heads bobbing in the water with the canoe upside down," Nelson Pettis, a member of the crew told KPTV. "They were coming down over flooded Salmon Creek. It was raging pretty fast."

The three brothers, aged 8, 10 and 16, had lost control of their boat in the strong current. Pettis says he and another inmate Larry Bohn jumped into the river.

"I just let the current take me down until I could get to a spot where my feet hit ground and I tried to stay put. They actually came to me right there," Pettis told KPTV. "Right then, the current swept me from underneath my feet and I grabbed onto the kids and got them to a little island in the middle of the river."

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Bohn helped the 16-year-old to shore and then helped Pettis and the two younger boys get onto a pile of floating debris in the creek until they could be rescued. Another inmate, Jon Fowler, helped the rescue crew carry the boys to shore.

"They were really scared," Bohn told KPTV. "They kept telling us 'thank you, thank you' all over again."

Clark County Fire District 6 Chief Jerry Green says the three boys and two inmates were taken to nearby hospitals with mild hypothermia.

"I think we did something that any good person would do. You see three helpless kids in a river, you help. That's what you do," Fowler told KPTV. 

"Just cause we're incarcerated, doesn't mean we're bad people, " he later added. "We made some bad choices in our lives, but we're still, we're just like everybody else. We're just paying our debt for what we did wrong."

Prison staff tells KPTV the members of the work crew are serving sentences for non-violent crimes.

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The Associated Press contributed to this report.