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Tragic drowning in Bandera City Park

By Judith Pannebaker BCC Editor

A decorated veteran drowned in the Medina River at Bandera City Park last week during an afternoon rescue of two teenagers from swift-moving currents.
Tragically, after both unidentified teenagers were safe, San Antonio resident Rodney Buentello, a retired 21-year veteran of the United States Marine Corps, was unable to extricate himself from a hydraulic wash created as water rushed over the dam. On Wednesday, June 8, Precinct 1 Justice of the Peace Mike Towers pronounced Buentello dead at the scene.
In a press release, City of Bandera Marshal Will Dietrich noted that the incident was precipitated after a teenage girl had attempted to walk across the top of the concrete dam – in clear violation of a posted city ordinance. After she was slipped over the dam, a teenage boy jumped in the churning water and tried to pull her to safety, the release continued.
However, a witness, who spoke with both youths after the incident, indicated that they admitted both had attempted to cross the dam. After the girl fell into the water, the boy jumped to her aid.
At the time of the incident, about two feet of water was reportedly rushing over the dam.
First response by Stith
According to accounts, Buentello, 42, who was visiting the park with his wife and two young sons, ages 8 and 9, realized the teenagers were in trouble and immediately rushed into the fray. After apparently pushing the girl to safety, he reentered the water where the boy was still floundering.
Bandera County Fire Marshal John Stith arrived as the first responder on the scene “about 75 seconds” after the emergency call went out over law enforcement scanners. In an interview on Friday, June 10, he spoke about his rescue attempts.
“When I arrived, a young girl was sitting on a bank crying and a man and young boy were in the middle of the river. The man was trying to push the kid, who was closer to the bank, out of the wash,” Stith said. Grabbing a weighted 75-foot water-rescue rope from his vehicle, Stith began tossing the rope to the center of the river.
“I threw the rope five times, but it always came up short,” he said. Additionally, Stith indicated, it looked like Buentello was being pummeled by a 10-foot log also churning in the turbulent water.
At this point, Stith said, the boy had broken free from the turbulence and was “spit out” about 50-feet downstream, where he was rescued by Max Konz.
Konz on scene
Konz works as an Intermediate EMT for Bandera County EMS. However, in this instance, he arrived equipped to execute a swift water rescue as a member of the Bandera Volunteer Fire Department.
EMS Director Calvin Plummer and Paramedic Supervisor Louis Corbeil arrived on the scene in a supervisor’s vehicle slightly before the EMS ambulance pulled up. “We had not been trained in water rescue,” Plummer said in an interview. “Our first instinct was to help, but without proper training and equipment, water rescues can go bad in a hurry. We didn’t want to become part of the problem.”
Plummer added, “Luckily Max stopped at the fire department for his gear before proceeding in the ambulance to the river.”
“I retrieved my jump bag from the station and added a few extra lifejackets, threw the equipment in the ambulance and kept going,” Konz explained. A swift water rescue jump bag includes a flotation vest, helmet, rescue rope and lifejackets.
Under long time
After arriving and assessing the situation, Konz learned that Buentello was still trapped in the hydraulics and hadn’t yet resurfaced from under the water. While spotters on the Highway 173 Bridge kept eyes out for Buentello, Konz pulled the boy, who was stranded in about four feet of water, from the river.
“When I got him out of the river, he said he had been hit in the chest and head with a log,” Konz said. Additionally, underwater debris accumulated at the foot of the dam included brush, wire, pieces of rebar, among other items, that could trap and snag people underwater.
Tragically, after Buentello had been under the water approximately 10 minutes, by several accounts, his body was released from the hydraulic wash. Spotters noted its position, downstream on the right bank of the river tangled in brush. Konz, recovered the body. According to Plummer, after consulting with Buentello’s wife, Lisa, no CPR was initiated.
“It’s very difficult to breakout when you’re trapped in a hydraulic wash,” Konz explained. “A body has no buoyancy because of all the bubbles created in the water, and the water rotation mechanism is continuous.”
He added, “Incredibly, the entire operation lasted only about 30 minutes. When you’re in the middle of it, it seems like hours.”
According to Plummer, the first “one-in-water” call came in at 2:26 pm; the “two-in-water” call at 2:27 pm; and “one-out, one-under” call at 2:31 pm with the “tone out” at 3:02 pm. The entire operation lasted only 31 minutes.
Semper Fi
Both Konz and Plummer praised the entire team of first responders for their work in the operation. “This couldn’t have been done by just one person. Successful outcomes depend on teamwork,” Konz said. Firefighters from Bandera, Pipe Creek and Tarpley were on the scene, as well as city deputy marshals, deputies with the Bandera County Sheriff’s Office and game wardens.
Lauding Buentello for his quick action, Plummer said, “Without him being right on the scene, the outcome could have been much worse.”
“I know Mr. Buentello’s years of military training kicked in instinctively. There was just no way he could have stood by while those kids were in the water. Leaping to the rescue was something that had been ingrained in him", Konz Said
A retired master sergeant, Buentello served served one tour of duty in Afghanistan and three tours of duty in Iraq. He received two Purple Hearts during his military career. The 1992 graduate of John Jay High School in San Antonio also has a 20-year-old son from a previous marriage.
For his part, Stith replays the incident in his mind. “I ask myself if I could have done anything more or anything differently,” he said. “I’ll say this, if not for Mr. Buentello’s actions, that boy would have been dead.”
According to City of Bandera ordinances, the near the dam is considered hazardous, and is, consequently, “… closed to all swimming, wading or boating.”