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Turlock teacher rescues man from Tuolumne River
Dutcher Middle School teacher Elias Ruiz was duck hunting on the Tuolumne River Sunday morning when he found a man face down in the water and pulled him out. The man is being treated for hypothermia. - photo by Contributed to the Courier

HUGHSON - A Turlock teacher is being credited with saving a man's life after pulling him from the cold waters of the Tuolumne River Sunday morning, Dec. 14.

Elias Ruiz, a teacher at Dutcher Middle School, discovered the man face down in the water in the area of Fox Grove northeast of Hughson.

Ruiz is the inventor of Feather-Raft, a lightweight structure designed to float steadily on water that just won a $2,500 prize in the Stanislaus County Innovation Challenge. Ruiz was out on the raft around 6:30 a.m. Sunday duck hunting when he first heard a strange noise.

"I could hear a sloshing sound," Ruiz said. "I thought maybe it was a cow or some wildlife coming to get something to drink, but the more I heard it, the stranger it sounded."

As the dawn started to break on the river, Ruiz said he could see a shape forming about 15 yards from where he was on his raft.

"I could see something dark in the water, and eventually I could see a jacket and pant line and knew it was a person," Ruiz said. "I had already been out there for about 45 minutes by this time."

Ruiz immediately called 911 and then set to work getting the man out of the water. He was able to pull the man ashore.

"About 95 percent of his body was in the water," Ruiz said. "I think his left shoulder was on a submerged piece of concrete and that had kept him from drowning."

The Stanislaus Consolidated Fire Department and the Hughson Fire District both responded to the scene.

"When we arrived the man was at the river's edge and he was conscious, but just barely," said Stanislaus Consolidated Fire Department Battalion Chief Rick Bussell. "He was very disoriented and showing lots of signs of hypothermia."

Ruiz said the man told him his name was Keith and that he was 49. He said he had stopped in the area earlier in the morning because of car trouble.

"I think he must have been standing in a sketchy area and fell in," Ruiz said. "He must have hit the bank and then landed in the water, because his back was all scratched up."

Bussell estimates the man was in the water for at least two hours or more. The outside temperature was in the 40s and the water was around 50 degrees, he said.

The man was transported by ambulance to Memorial Medical Center and was being treated for hypothermia.

"Had they (Ruiz and his friend) not seen him out there, he probably would have passed from hypothermia or drowning," Bussell said.

"It was just amazing that we were out there at the right time," Ruiz said.