Haldimand man saves life of driver after car ends up in Hamilton waters

Haldimand man saves life of driver after car ends up in Hamilton waters
HAMILTON—Dramatic images from a cell phone video shot by Wes Kassem show his friend Shawn MacNeil pulling a man from a sinking vehicle at the harbour in Bayfront Park, Hamilton.

By Mike Renzella

The Haldimand Press

FISHERVILLE—For Shawn MacNeil, a 26-year-old man working in appliance repair who has resided in Fisherville, the night of October 27 started out normal enough fishing off the pier at Bayfront Park in Hamilton with his friend Wes Kassem – but it would end up as a night neither will ever forget.

At around 9:30 p.m. a 78-year-old man drove his car down the pier and into the water.

MacNeil described the event from his perspective: “We were just going on a quick little fishing trip there. Halfway through the night we had a little power outage; all the lights went out. We were just kind of standing there about to pack it in and head home when we saw these lights coming down the ramp; we figured the guy would stop but the car went in the water. We were in a moment of disbelief.”

At that point, Kassem fired up the camera on his cell phone, unaware that he was about to film an act of heroism that Hamilton police say saved the drowning man’s life.

“At first, I thought it was a stolen car or something. When we got closer, I started getting concerned when we could see someone in there,” recalled Kassem.

MacNeil added, “We figured it was some drunk guy who messed up.… I realized he was an older fellow and he wasn’t getting out.”

They witnessed the man’s head slip below the surface of the water: “We saw air bubbles coming up from the car, we knew he was choking up a lot of water,” said Kassem.

MacNeil knew he had to act or the man was going to drown in front of them. 

“I stripped down to my long johns and hopped in,” he said, noting that he did so to have a warm pair of clothes after getting out of the cold water.

MacNeil landed on the hood of the sinking car and approached the driver’s side. From there, he said, “I grabbed him under the arms and started pulling as hard as I can…. I slipped him out of there, got his head above water, and that’s when I realized he wasn’t breathing, so I started freaking out, pulled him up on the roof of the car. Kassem was yelling at me to give him CPR, so I gave that a go. I had never really done CPR, but I was able to do the chest compressions, blow in his mouth and stuff.”

Kassem remembers holding his breath, just “hoping to God he would start getting his breath back. I really didn’t want to see someone die in front of my eyes like that.”

Hamilton Police arrived on the scene shortly after MacNeil’s effort, calling him brave for his efforts that night.

The driver was taken to the hospital with non-life-threatening injuries. While MacNeil has not yet spoken to the man he helped save, he says he has a lead on him, adding, “I hope I get to talk to him.”

Both men expressed shock at how the story went viral and appeared on national news, with Kassem’s video of the event amassing thousands of views on YouTube.

“That’s something I was not expecting. The only reason Kassem put the video on YouTube was because he wanted to show his mom and the video was too big to send. He put it on there and it started blowing up overnight,” said MacNeil.

“It was a crazy experience,” added Kassem. “I’ve never had a video go viral. I wasn’t intending to boast it…. For a good three or four days after that it felt like I filmed a movie. I didn’t process it ‘til a few days after.”

MacNeil feels humbled by the attention he’s received for his efforts, “Other than the fact that my hair looks crazy and I’m wearing a pair of long johns.”

He concluded, “Everyone’s telling me ‘not many people would do that’, but I think you gotta’ dig deep in that moment to realize what you’re really capable of.”