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Posted on Sun, Sep 25, 2011 : 1:03 p.m.

Washtenaw County deputy Joe Ballard to be honored with lifesaving award

By Lee Higgins


Deputy Joe Ballard looks out at the spot in the Huron River where he rescued a man.

Melanie Maxwell |

Washtenaw County sheriff’s deputy Joe Ballard doesn’t think he deserves special recognition for jumping in the Huron River in August and rescuing a man who was drowning. He says it was something he felt obligated to do.

“I did not want to go through my life knowing that I could have saved somebody and I watched them die,” Ballard said.

Ballard, a 10-year sheriff’s department veteran assigned to Scio Township, will be honored by the department with a lifesaving award.

He recalled the night of Aug. 2 when he was dispatched on a report of a suspicious incident near West Huron River Drive and Tubbs Road in the township. Dispatchers had received a report that a man was standing on the side of the road, waving for help.

When Ballard drove up in his patrol vehicle about 7:47 p.m., he interviewed a driver who had seen the man sitting near a bridge over the river. Ballard went to the bridge and found a cell phone and backpack on the river bank, but the man wasn't there.

“As I walked down toward the river, I heard screaming in the woods,” Ballard said.

Ballard couldn't make out what the person was screaming. He scoured the woods, walking roughly 300 yards east of the bridge, where he stopped on the river bank to listen. He saw a man's head emerge briefly from the water, about 50 feet from shore.

“He pops up almost like he was gasping for air and goes back under,” Ballard said.

Ballard then lost sight of the man. "I knew what I had to do," he said.

Ballard told dispatchers he was going in the water. Thirty feet east of where he first saw the man, the man's head popped up again.

Ballard took off his bulletproof vest and duty belt and entered the water, making it out to an island 20 feet from the river bank. He then swam another 15 feet out in the river and grabbed hold of the man, who was unconscious. Ballard brought the man back to the island. The man did not appear to be breathing, but then started coughing up water, so Ballard did not have to administer CPR. Ballard said the man was heavily intoxicated.

Ballard and Sgt. Keith Flores brought the man from the island to the river bank. The 50-year-old man was taken by ambulance to University of Michigan Hospital to be evaluated.

“He said he couldn’t remember if he passed out or blacked out when he fell into the river,” Ballard said. “He told us he didn’t think he was trying to commit suicide.”

A witness told deputies that the man mumbled something about a girl and made a comment that he wanted to die prior to ending up in the water. Ballard had never seen the man before and hasn't seen him since. He learned the man was homeless and had recently been released from the hospital. The man never thanked Ballard, but Ballard said that wasn't important.

"I would have done it if I was off-duty," he said.

After the rescue, Ballard went home and put on a change of clothes. He returned to work and apprehended a man who fled from state police after crashing on I-94.

“It was a busy night,” Ballard said.

Prior to working full-time for the sheriff's department, Ballard was as a reserve deputy for 6 years and also worked in security at Domino's Farms. Becoming a police officer was a childhood dream, he said.

Sheriff Jerry Clayton said Ballard didn’t think twice before taking action and he was proud of him.

“I think sometimes people take for granted what first responders do,” Clayton said. “I just think this is just another example of the selflessness of first responders.”

Lee Higgins is a reporter for He can be reached by phone at (734) 623-2527 and email at


Sandra Samons

Tue, Sep 27, 2011 : 2:11 a.m.

Too bad we cannot clone this deputy. I have had the good fortune to need his help myself, and he went beyond the call of duty. We are fortunate to have this man as part of our community. Good job, Deputy Ballard! You are greatly appreciated.


Mon, Sep 26, 2011 : 8:30 p.m.

Sincere thanks to Deputy Ballard for your ability and your humanity and your sense of duty. I do hope all law enforcement people in Washtenaw County recognize that we depend on them (a lot) for all they do. I also think that we citizens regularly ought to give a silent minute to think about giving due respect to our law enforcement officers. Not to say all is well or perfect, I'm just talking about the great majority of officers who treat their job with dedication and professionalism.


Mon, Sep 26, 2011 : 3:30 p.m.

Thankyou Deputy Ballard


Mon, Sep 26, 2011 : 3:18 a.m.

The fact that this man went above and beyond and doesn't believe he's a her is exactly why he IS a hero!


Mon, Sep 26, 2011 : 12:35 a.m.

@JohnA2.....If Joe had saved your father, brother, son, I think you would change your opinion. I don't know the relevance here either. (your opinion is not making a hit here) Thanks again Joe!!


Sun, Sep 25, 2011 : 9:37 p.m.

This was above and beyond his duty, and the award is well deserved. I recall a news report from a different city maybe a year or two ago, where several police and fire officers watched while a mentally ill man drowned in a river. They had a policy that no one without proper water rescue training and gear is permitted to attempt one. I don't know what the rules here are, but I'm glad that officer Ballard was in a position to save a life, and did not hesitate to do so.

Kai Petainen

Sun, Sep 25, 2011 : 10:31 p.m.

if there was/is such a policy.... then I'm glad a humane police officer with a heart was nearby, and not a lawyer.

Mr. Ed

Sun, Sep 25, 2011 : 9:28 p.m.

Ballard did more than his job. He went above the call of service to save a man. John A2 has an opinion and you know we say about opinions, everyone has one. I support this hero for saving a life. Thank you Deputy Ballard


Sun, Sep 25, 2011 : 6:52 p.m.

This deputy is in fact a HERO. He didn't ask for recognition the Ann Arbor news decided to write an article to recognize his good work. Certainly beats reading stories about corruption in a police department or layoffs in the police force due to budget cuts. For people like John A2 when was the last time you put your life on the line for a stranger? What we should be celebrating is life! This deputy was able to give, what appears to be a disturbed individual, a second chance! Great work deputy!

Kai Petainen

Sun, Sep 25, 2011 : 6:50 p.m.

Ballard... Thanks for saving him... and thanks for your service. What an amazing story...


Sun, Sep 25, 2011 : 5:52 p.m.

What a wonderful HERO, he should be honored and well deserves the life saving award. (thank you not important) had never seen the man before, and hasn't since. Our Police officers do a lot, of above and beyond their duty. Joe put his own life on the line for this man. Thank You Joe, you are a super hero, and am sure many people are proud of you. God Bless!