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Rescue attempt hits close to home for police officer

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Police Officer George Roush says tragedies involving children are stressful for officers who have children of their own.

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As Toledo police Officer George Roush pulled the 19-month-old boy from an above-ground pool in the south end, he felt like he was rescuing his own 2-year-old son.

With one arm and hand, Officer Roush cradled Marcus Coutcher, who was clad in a swim-diaper. With the other hand, he keyed the microphone on his shoulder and asked for a life squad. Then, he laid the toddler on the grass.

"His eyes were open. He was still warm. I thought I had a good chance," the police department veteran of nearly 18 years said of Wednesday's tragedy in a backyard pool.

His CPR training kicked in, and he began mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. He said he kept repeating, "Marcus come back. Marcus come back."

Even with attempts by officers, firefighters, and hospital personnel, the Perrysburg boy was not revived. He was pronounced dead about an hour later at Medical University of Ohio Medical Center. The Lucas County coroner's office ruled his death accidental from drowning. No charges will be filed.

Marcus and his mother were at a friend's house at 545 South Detroit Ave. when she took him out of the pool and into a neighboring house to prepare lunch. A few minutes later, she looked around, saw he was not with her, started screaming for him, and called 911, authorities said.

For Officer Roush - a father of three boys ages 4, 2, and 6 months - it was one of the toughest experiences he's had on the job.

"I've seen hundreds of adults who have died or are dead. When it's a child, it's a different experience when you have kids at home," he said.

As a rookie, he said, he assisted with CPR on an 11-month-old child who died after falling into a mop bucket. It was easier then. He was single with no children.

"After it was over, I went back into service and took some calls," he said. "This was much different."

Officer Roush was on the Anthony Wayne Trail near the Toledo Zoo when he heard the call about the missing toddler, who might have gotten out of a gate. The call, which came just before the end of his shift, was different from many missing persons calls, which are often teen runaways.

When he pulled in front of 541 South Detroit Ave., he found the boy's mother in the driveway wearing a towel. He said he asked her how long it had been since she had seen the child, if she had been in the pool next door, and if she had checked the pool.

The mother, who police said has a vision problem, told him it had been about 10 minutes since she saw the boy. She said they were at the pool earlier and that she checked it, but he wasn't there.

Officer Roush went toward the pool. As he walked through a gate, he could see the boy floating face down. Marcus had on a swim diaper just like the one the officer's 2-year-old wears.

"I said, 'Oh my God,' and the next thing I knew, I was [at the pool,]" the officer said, explaining how he grabbed the boy and radioed for help.

Officer Otto Rectenwald, who also responded to the call, helped with CPR; Sgt. Mark Fry offered to relieve Officer Roush, who declined, until a paramedic from fire Station No. 21 took over.

A pediatric emergency room nurse happened to be riding on the responding ambulance that day.

Officer Roush said he prayed on the way to the hospital, just as he had when emergency medical personnel took over. Afterward, he and the other officers and firefighters attended a debriefing at Fire Station No. 21.

"The two most stressful things are the loss of a colleague and the death of a child because you picture your own kid," said Officer Pat Gladieux of the police department's employee assistance program. "You never forget them."

After the debriefing, Officer Roush rushed home, hugged his boys, told them he loved them, and took the two oldest to swim lessons, where parent participation is required for the 2-year-old.

"I had to get into the water and put his swimmy diaper on," the officer said. "He looked like the little boy."

Contact Christina Hall at: chall@theblade.com or 419-724-6007.

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