It was June 17 of last year, the second show for the Dave Matthews Band at Saratoga Performing Arts Center, and Sam Reed was lurking with a few other people in the woods near the bridge from Route 50, a long-established spot for fence-jumping.
“He was contemplating going around and buying a ticket,” said his father, Tim Reed.
Sam didn’t comment on that. He is a soft-spoken 20-year-old. He and his father had come in to the newspaper office to tell me about something that happened in those woods outside SPAC last June as dusk fell.
Sam and the others were standing at the top of a steep bank that runs down to a river.
“I’m not really close with any of the people I was with,” he said. “But a kid I knew from school, he pointed it out — ‘There’s someone in the river.’
“We all looked. There was a woman, obviously struggling. Her head kept going under the water. She was yelling for help.
“No one really did anything at first.”
A couple of weeks before he and Sam came in, Tim sent me an email, reacting to a column I wrote. Tim told me he has five kids altogether and he often regales them with lectures about “doing the right thing.” Then he mentioned this episode at SPAC, when a woman appeared to be drowning, but several young people stood by and watched.
Sam backed him up. A couple of people, he said, made remarks like, “Oh yeah, I think she’s dead,” and “Oh, she’s definitely dead. There’s no coming back from that,” without making a move to help.
Sam and the guy he knew from school ran down the bank as the woman sank.
“Her head was completely under the water. Only her hand was up, grasping, then it started sinking under,” he said.
The river isn’t deep, but a dam was creating a hydraulic current that was pulling the woman under, Sam said. He jumped in and grabbed her and pulled her to the rocks, where his friend helped pull her up on the bank.
“She was unconscious. She was making noises. When we pulled her up to the rocks, her entire face was covered in blood. She was throwing up water.”
Sam could see she had been beaten.
“She had a giant gash across her forehead. One eye was swollen shut. The other eye was also battered.
“She just kept telling me, ‘Don’t get the cops.’”
But the young men did call the police, and first responders got the woman on a stretcher and took her away.
Officers questioned Sam and the other young man, and the next day a State Police investigator came to Sam’s house and took him to the scene to have him recreate what happened.
Officers told Sam they knew who the attacker was, and it was a man — a very short man, Sam said — he had noticed at the scene.
But in the succeeding weeks, the Reeds didn’t hear about an arrest, and when Tim made a few inquiries, he was told by a State Police supervisor that the woman wouldn’t cooperate, and he should let it go.
Tim is disturbed by the thought of the young people who did nothing when they saw a fellow human being in distress.
“It’s not the way we were told to do it when we were growing up,” he said.
But Sam said he knows a lot of people his age who would have helped, had they been there.
And this is a story about two young people who did act, despite the risk and despite the apathy of their peers, and they saved a life.
This is a good news story, from my perspective, except for the part about the short, murderous man who is still out there, uncharged.
Another good thing came out of this rescue. Sam Reed is a musician, and he wrote a song — a very good song — about what happened.
The song is called “Woman in the Water” and it is tuneful and smooth and quirky, much like the songs of Dave Matthews. “Doing Fine,” another of Sam’s compositions, can be found on YouTube.
“Woman in the Water” isn’t online yet, but Sam will be playing Feb. 16 in a songwriters circle at the Strand Theater in Hudson Falls and perhaps he will play it.
One more good thing came out of the young men’s heroism — after the officers were done questioning them, they let them into the concert.
Was it good? I asked.
“What little bit of it I saw,” Sam smiled. “It was good.”