Our lives can be changed in an instant due to circumstances well beyond our control. Complete strangers can be brought together in ways we could never imagine.
Such was the case for three complete strangers last Saturday morning. The story below describes an incredible situation, a dramatic rescue, an amazing tale of three lives that became intertwined in a flash.
The experience that Linda Toulch had can best be described as once-in-a-lifetime. Had it not been for Linda’s acute or chance observation on that fateful morning we might never have known of the bravery of rookie police officer Rafael Bealieu.
And even more amazingly, the life of a struggling individual could have ended within seconds had it not been for the miraculous intervention by this would-be rookie cop hero.
Hats off to Linda, citizen reporter,  for doing her part in telling this amazing story. Chapeau to officer Bealieu for his quick thinking, rapid response and bravery in the face of endangering his own life which saved the life of this helpless, sinking victim.  And thank goodness that this unnamed victim, in her own car on a Montreal street will have these two wonderful people, Linda and Rafael to remember in such a remarkable way for the rest of her hopefully healthy and less-eventful life.

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Montreal rookie cop “a hero” says woman who witnessed flash flood rescue

Montreal police Const. Rafael Beaulieu, left, and partner Simon Lavoie outside police station 26 on Monday July 10, 2017. The Montreal police constables made a dramatic rescue on Victoria Ave. Saturday.
Montreal police Const. Rafael Beaulieu, left, and partner Simon Lavoie outside police station 26 on Monday July 10, 2017. The Montreal police constables made a dramatic rescue on Victoria Ave. Saturday. PIERRE OBENDRAUF / MONTREAL GAZETTE

“I didn’t want to be filming a death. I just couldn’t take that.”

It was 6:30 a.m. Saturday, the rain was still coming down and Linda Toulch had tried to call 911 to tell them what she had seen from the window of her 10th-storey condo moments before — a car travelling along Victoria Ave., stopped by traffic beneath an underpass, waiting for the light to change. But as it waited, water began to cascade into the underpass, accumulate and rise.

Toulch had stayed on the line with 911 for a few minutes before hanging up after getting no reply. She presumed the emergency call centre was getting swamped with calls related to the torrential rains that were hitting the city as a system of thunderstorms rolled through Montreal. And so, picking up her iPad, she joined her husband at their window and began to record what was happening on the street below.

She recorded as the waters rose past the vehicle’s tires, then approached its trunk. She recorded as a Montreal police car pulled up at the water’s edge and two officers exited the vehicle. But as it became clear the car wasn’t going to move because its engine had been flooded and, with it, any power to open the windows to let the driver escape, as it became clear the vehicle was on the verge of being completely submerged, Toulch stopped recording.

“I didn’t want to witness a drowning so I just put down the iPad,” she said. But as she did so, her husband, watching the scene through a pair of high-power binoculars, told her: “Look what’s happening now.”

What happened was one of the two Montreal policers who had pulled up to the underpass took off his gun belt, handed it to his partner, grabbed his baton and jumped into the waters slowly engulfing the car.

“(The police officer) didn’t think the water was going to be over his head,” said Toulch. “My husband could see his expression. He was like shocked, he almost went under. But he came back up, swam over to the car.

The officer who headed into the water, 23-year-old Const. Rafael Beaulieu, a police officer only since May, said Monday he and his partner Simon Lavoie only noticed the woman’s predicament by chance.

“We were heading for an assignment downtown when we saw cars doing U-turns on Victoria Ave.,” he said. “When we saw what was happening (in the underpass), the first thing we did was block off the road with our squad car.”

Beaulieu said he could see the female driver in the back seat of the car and called out to her before swimming toward the vehicle. He then used his baton to smash in the rear window of the vehicle and hauled the woman out. In the end, the only injury recorded was the one he suffered.

“She couldn’t swim and she was holding onto my bulletproof vest pretty tight,” he said. “The water was so high I couldn’t touch the bottom, so I grabbed onto the edge of the (broken) window. I cut my hand, but it was minor.”

Handing the woman over to his partner, Beaulieu made sure there was no one else in the car before returning to relatively dry land.

Once Urgences-santé arrived and the paperwork was filled out, both officers returned to the station, showered, changed uniforms and then returned to their assignment downtown.

Despite the fact she was 10 storeys above the rescue, Toulch was so impressed by Beaulieu’s actions that when 911 finally called back to ask why she had called, she told the operator what she had seen.

“He could have been swept under the car, that glass could have cut his face … I said, ‘The policeman is a hero, and he should be rewarded with a medal.’”

After being put in touch with Montreal police, Toulch repeated her praise for the officer and sent them the video she had recorded on Saturday. On Monday, she and her husband paid a visit to Beaulieu at Station 26, which serves Côte-des-Neiges West, to thank him.

“I figured you hear so many negative things about the police,” she said. “This is a feel-good story.”

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