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Wintry canoe trip becomes cold dip into Back River Steel worker rescued after craft capsizes


If an overnight canoe trip down Back River in February doesn't capture your imagination, relax. The idea leaves Jeffrey Leo of Dundalk cold, too.

Cold doesn't cover it, though. Try numb. And wet. And embarrassed.

Mr. Leo, 24, a Bethlehem Steel worker who lives in the 3100 block of Wallford Drive, said that he "had a couple of days off" and that he thus decided to take his canoe on an overnight trip.

On Wednesday afternoon he slipped his canoe into Herring Run in Baltimore.

Things went well the first day, and he camped out. But yesterday morning, after he paddled down Moore's Run and into Back River, the wind picked up. The waves developed a 1- to 2-foot chop after he passed under the Eastern Avenue bridge.

By 11:15 a.m., Mr. Leo was near Cox's Point, past the Back River Wastewater Treatment Plant, and knew he was in trouble. "The wind was coming out at me from the land, and I couldn't get to shore," he said. Finally, a wave hit the canoe, and it capsized.

Mr. Leo struggled back into the craft and began pitching out his cooking pans and sleeping gear to lighten it. But he was knocked over again and was left clinging to a cooler in 36- to 40-degree water.

He said that he didn't know what to do when he was in the water but that he saw a small plane circling overhead, so he believed someone had seen him.

That's when Baltimore County police Officers Jeffrey A. HTC McCleese and Michael Eder arrived, responding to a call.

Officer McCleese said his partner stayed at the site, keeping Mr. Leo in view, while he drove to nearby Riverside Marina where mechanic Rich Homberg had just finished repairing a customer's 22-foot motorboat.

Mr. Homberg said he quickly launched the boat and guided it out into the river, and Officer McCleese threw Mr. Leo a rope. "He was purple," the policeman said.

Mr. Leo said he was so cold and stiff by then that he was surprised he was able to grasp the rescue rope.

"I was thankful," he said.

"It feels really good [to rescue someone]," Officer McCleese said. "It makes up for all the bad things that happen."

Mr. Leo was rushed to Franklin Square Hospital and was released later in the day, admitting that the allure of a solitary winter canoe trip had faded considerably.

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