Three employees of the Village of Niles public works department likely saved a man's life Thursday morning, two witnesses said Thursday.
Ron Neukirch, a leader with the Niles Police Department's VIPS (Volunteers in Police Service) program and Niles Trustee-elect George Alpogianis both saw the scene unfold on Harts Road near the North Branch of the Chicago River, between Touhy and Milwaukee Avenues in Niles.
The area was closed to vehicle traffic all day Thursday due to high water.
Alpogianis said the bicyclist was coming eastbound on Harts Road in the early morning, and that the river water was high and started moving fast after 5 a.m.
Neukirch said when the man's bike entered the rushing water, he lost control, and both man and bike started to be swept downstream. At that point, the bike caught on a tree stump, Alpogianis said.
The three village employees – Pete Arvanitis, Mike Reid and Tony Dati--waded into water that was nearly waist deep to grab the bicyclist, both witnesses said, adding it was dangerous because the water could easily have swept them away.
(Emergency management agencies warn that even six inches of moving water can knock a person off his or her feet and into a dangerous situation.)
At that point, Neukirch said, the man didn't want to let go of his bike.
"They were like, 'let go of the bike or we'll let go of you,'" Neukirch recounted.
Alpogianis said the three dragged the man out, and Dati was able to wrest the bike out, too. The bicyclist then rode away on his bike.
"They could have been swept away," Alpogianis said of the three Public Works employees. "They probably saved his life."