River rescue earns Yankton, SD officers new honor - KTIV News 4 Sioux City IA: News, Weather and Sports

River rescue earns Yankton, SD officers new honor

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YANKTON, SD (KTIV) -

The South Dakota Police Chiefs Association awarded its first ever "Officer of the Year" award to not one, but four Siouxland police officers.

"It was around two in the morning,” said Corporal Brad Parker of the Yankton, South Dakota Police Department.

"I was flagged down by a distraught female. She said that her friend got into an argument with her husband, and then she took off,” recalled Yankton Patrol Officer Jeremy McNinch.

"Down by the river she lost site of her and didn't know where she went,” added Parker.

“Did she get on the bike trail or is she sitting underneath the bridge,” asked McNinch.

"Dispatch get an ambulance down here. Search and rescue also,” radioed Parker.

“I decided to come down here to the river to assist with the search,” explained Yankton Police Officer Rob Buechler.

"20 do you got her? She's in the water," he radioed that night.

Under dark, rainy skies, with only their flashlights and these minimal street lights, miraculously, Officer Buechler spotted 28-year old Diana Starbuck who they say was unresponsive.

“She was not moving at all, just floating in the water,” Buechler said.

In a matter of minutes, the quick current of the Missouri River carried Starbuck the length of a football field.

“And it's about right here when the other officers arrived,” Buechler recalled.

"Officer Buechler requested to go in the water as soon as I got there, and I told him no,” said Parker who supervised the incident.

Instead, Officer Monty Rothenberger grabbed rescue ropes out of the trunk of his patrol car and headed to the river. He threw the ropes in her direction 30 yards out into the river.

"They went right where they were supposed to go. She floated right over the top of them,” said Parker.

"If she was with it that night, I believe that she would have been able to grab the rope easily, because it was within inches of her,” said Rothenberger.

“You could visibly see she was getting deeper in the water,” observed Buechler.

Corporal Parker gave his men the go ahead to get in.

"I tried to swim after her, but I just couldn't get up to her as quickly as I thought I could,” said Buechler.

Officer Rothenberger watched, worried not only for the woman's safety, but his fellow officers.

"When you have two officers in the water, and you're standing on the shore watching it, there's a part of you that things what if this doesn't work out. What are we going to do then," Rothenberger recalled.

Officer McNinch tried to catch up to Starbuck.

“Looked down river and seen a point that goes out into the river and seeing that she was kind of drifting in that direction, I chose to enter the river at that point,” remembered McNinch.

Then dispatch heard over the radio, "Tac-19 we do have the female. We're bringing her up to shore, but we do need the ambulance."

"It's a very humbling experience. It'd be enjoyable to save a person's life everyday, but I wouldn't want to be put in that position,” said McNinch.

"It was all just based on teamwork and just doing without thinking,” Buechler added.

"I'm happy for all of us,” Rothenberger said.

Though she doesn't remember falling in the river, 28-year-old Diana Starbuck, of Plattsmouth, Nebraska, sent Corporal Parker a letter of thanks a few days after the incident.

"It was just another day on the job at the Yankton Police Department,” said Parker proudly.

A night that could have ended in tragedy was saved, by four hometown heroes.

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