By Kate Raddatz

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — A tree trimmer who got pinned in a pond last spring shares his story for the first time.

Willie Hamer almost drowned when his arm got stuck under his cherry picker in Rogers.

Eight months later, he’s navigating a new life– but he’s not alone.

Hamer doesn’t know exactly how a cherry picker in his backyard slipped down the hill, forcing him into the water.

“I didn’t see it coming at me. My back was turned to the machine and it came down and hit me from the back,” he said.

Suddenly Willie was trapped with just his nose and eyes above the icy water, with his arm pinned under 6,000 pounds of equipment.

By the time police got there, the cold was already taking its toll.

“Luckily, I had the jacket on at the time because if I had just a T-shirt, I would have froze to death. I was dying,” Hamer said.

After several attempts to move the cherry picker, Rogers Police Chief Jeff Beahen ordered everyone out of the pond to lower the water level on Hamer. He got in with a cold water rescue suit and kept Hamer alert.

“I told him, ‘Willie, we’re not leaving this pond ’till you’re out of here,'” Beahen said.

A half-hour later and after discussion of amputating Willie’s arm, the picker was lifted and he was free.

He spent almost a week in the hospital with a shattered pelvis, hypothermia, a fractured clavicle, and paralysis on part of his right side.

Beahen visited him in the hospital.

“He’s such an amazing man,” said Angela Fairbanks, Hamer’s fiancee . “He has helped our family, and I was terrified. I was scared.”

Hamer says he not only owes Beahen and the rescuers his life, but also a new perspective of what matters.

“I believe in God and I think he puts people in your life for a reason, and he was one of those people,” Hamer said.

Hamer is scheduled to have shoulder reconstruction surgery next month. He has not been able to work since that accident in March.

The rescue suit was donated to the department by a family whose daughter drowned in an icy pond.

 

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