‘Humble Hero’ Recognized For Saving Child In Bridge Accident

‘Humble Hero’ Recognized For Saving Child In Bridge Accident
Wendy, Jonathan and Ava Bauer are pictured at a May press conference after his heroic rescue.

OCEAN CITY — The “humble hero” who jumped off the Route 90 bridge to save a young child ejected from a vehicle in an accident now has a memorable name and face.

Jonathan Bauer was finally introduced on Friday as the humble hero who rescued the 2-year-old girl who was ejected from a pickup truck dangling over the rail on the Route 90 bridge on May 2 at a press conference.

Bauer, who throughout the week following the May 2 incident, preferred to remain anonymous, but was introduced at the press conference at the fire station last Friday afternoon with his wife Wendy and daughter Ava by his side. He was feted by a host of elected officials, first-responders, firefighter-paramedics and police officers involved in the incident.

The vice president of information systems at Atlantic General Hospital, Bauer was traveling with his 13-year-old daughter Ava west across the bridge when their vehicle was involved in the multi-vehicle crash. After checking on others around him involved in the crash, Bauer sprang into action.

“We heard yelling and saw the truck on the railing,” he said. “I told Ava to call 911 and stay right there.”

Bauer said he could hardly believe what he saw next.

“When I looked over, I saw the car seat and some other items, and about six feet away from the car seat was a little girl,” he said. “She was on her back, completely floating, head completely out of the water, arms moving, legs kicking and a little pink dress.”

Bauer wasted no time acting on the situation, although he did admit he took his shoes off first, and leaped over the rail and into the bay about 30 feet below. He told Ava to find the nearest police officer or firefighter and he prepared to make his life-saving leap.

“At that point, I looked around and didn’t see any boats in the area,” he said. “I told Ava to stay right there and don’t move. I didn’t have any choice but to jump over.”

Bauer described how he landed in the water and reached the two-year-old child.

“I hit feet first, then knees, and then arms, and I was fine,” he said. “I popped up and swam to the girl.”

Bauer reached the little girl and then began assessing her condition.

“When I looked at her, her mouth was open, and her eyes were semi-open,” he said. “I put her against my shoulder very high and aggressively patted her on the back and within seconds, she spit up water, a lot of water,” he said. “She started coughing up a lot of water. I patted her on the back for about five minutes until the pontoon boat showed up.”

The pontoon boat that showed up minutes after the incident was operated by local resident Joe Oertel who was out on the water with his wife Tricia and their daughter Alayna. Alayna was actually operating the boat when she saw the incident on the bridge. The Oertel family drove the boat to the scene and maneuvered close to Bauer and the baby. Bauer handed the child to the Oertels and then climbed aboard the vessel himself.

“Our heart dropped,” he said. “You just go into a different mode. You step it up at that point.”

Joe Oertel, after the incident last week, recounted his family’s role in the miraculous rescue.

“We navigated as close as we could, and we realized he was holding an infant,” he said. “We were in rescue mode by then.  We asked him if there was anyone else in the water. My wife, Tricia, dropped a ladder and took the child from the man, she handed it to me and Alayna wrapped it in a blanket. We pulled the man aboard the boat.”

On Friday, Joe Oertel described Bauer’s state when their pontoon boat reached him.

“He was stoic,” he said. “He was a little rattled, but he was under control. He knew what was going on and what had just happened.

For his part, Bauer praised the Oertel family for their quick response upon arrival on the scene.

“The Oertel family, I couldn’t say enough for them being there at the right place and the right time,” he said.

Ava Bauer said on Friday she was uncertain about her dad’s fate when he jumped from the bridge.

“My first instinct was when my dad jumped off the bridge and it looked like he was going head-first into the water,” she said. “So that was my first instinct and probably the scariest part of my life, seeing my dad jump off a bridge. I thought he was going to die. I thought he was going to be paralyzed. I thought the worst.”

The pontoon boat then sped to the boat ramp at 64th Street where paramedics were just arriving. The two-year-old child was taken to the hospital and was released a couple of days later and is expected to make a full recovery. All seven of the other victims injured in the multi-vehicle crash also survived.

Bauer’s wife Wendy recalled those frantic moments last Sunday.

“I called Ava and there was no icebreaker,” she said. “She said dad jumped over the bridge. I can’t say how proud I am of him. It doesn’t surprise me. If you know him, you know that is something he would do.”

Wendy Bauer jokingly said her husband was afraid of heights. Ava Bauer said she was going to try to get him to go on the Ferris wheel now that his fear of heights had been neutralized.

Worcester County Fire Marshal Rob Korb was first on the scene and radioed in the situation.

“Route 90 is known for accidents, but in my whole career I’ve never seen a vehicle dangling over the rail,” he said. “I looked over and saw you with the baby. Everyone here calls you the humble hero, but now we have a face and a name. You were the right guy in the right place at the right time.”

Mayor Rick Meehan presented Bauer with a special plaque on behalf of the entire community for his heroic action. Meehan also praised the two young girls for their roles in the incident, including 13-year-old Ava Bauer, and 14-year-old Alayna Oertel.

Ocean City Fire Chief Richie Bowers also praised Bauer, who, along with his family, were also presented with embroidered apparel and hats from the OCFD. Bowers said if any minute detail had gone just the other way, it could have had a tragic ending instead of a happy one.

“What you did without question was an amazingly heroic thing,” said Bowers. “It was a very courageous thing to jump over the railing, down 25-30 feet into open water, which is only four or five feet deep.”

To see the full press conference, click here courtesy of CBS Baltimore.

About The Author: Shawn Soper

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Shawn Soper has been with The Dispatch since 2000. He began as a staff writer covering various local government beats and general stories. His current positions include managing editor and sports editor. Growing up in Baltimore before moving to Ocean City full time three decades ago, Soper graduated from Loch Raven High School in 1981 and from Towson University in 1985 with degrees in mass communications with a journalism concentration and history.