An Illinois man died after jumping into a frozen pond to save his granddaughter, authorities said Tuesday.
Two sisters, 8 and 10, were out walking their six dogs Saturday morning near Charleston, which is about 100 miles east of Springfield, when two puppies got loose and the older girl ran on to the frozen pond to get them, family members said.
When Ma’Lyiah White fell into the frigid waters, the girls were within shouting distance of home, which prompted Carlos Serafin, 31, to sprint to the pond. He also fell in the waters.
Serafin didn’t think twice about putting his own life in danger, the victim’s husband, Bill Croy, said. They were the legal guardians of the girls, who are the biological children of Croy’s oldest adopted daughter.
“He didn’t think, he just did — and it showed until his last breath,” he told NBC News on Tuesday.
The family tried to use a long dog leash to throw to Serafin but he couldn’t reach it.
“I threw it at him and he said, ‘I can’t see it anymore, I can’t see it, Bill!’” a tearful Croy, 47, recounted. “I could just see him going under and I just couldn’t get to them.”
The family called 911. Rescuers with the Lincoln Fire Protection District and Charleston Fire Department pulled the girl and man out at 8:06 a.m. and 8:15 a.m., respectively, and rushed them to the hospital, officials said.
That is where the man died and the girl remains in critical condition, according to authorities and family members. One of the family’s dogs also perished in the ice break, officials said.
The serene setting of a frozen pond belies the life-threatening dangers posed by ice that can easily crack, Charleston Fire Chief Steve Bennett said.
“People, unless they have any experience or training, don’t really think about. They just see ice and they think, ‘Oh, it’s thick enough,’” Bennett said. “A good rule of thumb is if it’s less than four inches, you probably ought to stay off of it.”
Serafin, a former restaurant manager and stay-at-home dad, was in bed when he heard the commotion and immediately put on sandals to run to danger, family members said.
“That’s what made him Carlos. He was very spontaneous in life,” said Amanda Beals, Croy’s sister and the girls’ great-aunt. “It truly, truly showed until his last breath. He didn’t have a care in the world. He just wanted to take care of others.”