Diving head first

Quick reaction by local officer saves life


Detective Sergeant Lucas Cunningham of the Madisonville Police Department knows what it takes to save a life.

After all, he was honored by DPS and the state with a Director’s Award last year for his part in saving a local woman's life in the Square. Last week, the 39-year-old Illinois native would directly save his second life on an entirely different terrain.

“A call came out over the radio that a boat had flipped over in (Lake Madison) and they thought that they saw somebody out in the water,” said Cunningham. “We came flying across town and drove our vehicles right up to the dam.”

It turned out to be an 81-year-old individual who was out on his boat fishing. When law enforcement approached the scene, they discovered him on his back about 20 feet out on the lake clutching a buoyant cushion.

Cunningham was the first on the scene and learned by calling out to the man that he was okay, but could not swim.

“I took off my gun, badge and radio and then dove in after him,” said Cunningham. “I went out there to grab a hold of him and just brought him back in. You hear stories about two people drowning in some of these cases because the first person cannot remain calm. But I told him to relax and he stayed perfectly still.”

The gentleman involved values his privacy and preferred to stay anonymous in this story. He was able to walk up the bank’s steep grade with assistance and was transported to a nearby ambulance by the Madisonville Fire Department.

“The first thought that went through my mind was that I hope he does not drown and that he will be okay,” said Cunningham. “Then I started to hope that I would not get yelled at for jumping into the lake in my uniform and boots.”

Cunningham has heard of rules in other police departments against officers jumping into bodies of water. In fact, Captain Richard Morris told Cunningham that he was reprimanded for the same thing earlier in his career.

Instead, Cunningham simply received a “good job” from his superiors.

“(Chief Herbert Gilbert) is a different breed,” said Cunningham. “I came from a big department with thousands of employees where you are nothing but a number. It is not like that here with this chief. You are like family and he actually cares what is going on. He is not that big department uptight kind of guy and it has been a big blessing.”

Cunningham has now been with the MPD for almost five years after working as a member of the Tactical Response Team with the Illinois Department of Corrections. He grew frustrated with the state’s approach and began to search for greener pastures outside of his home state.

He put himself through the TEEX Central Texas Police Academy and was then offered a job with the MPD.

“It is a lot different,” said Cunningham. “It is definitely a smaller town than what I was used to. But I stayed here and called it home.”

Cunningham lives outside of Madisonville with his fiancé, Cassie.