Ever since he learned how to walk, three-year-old Demetrius Jones's family has had to keep a close eye on the toddler when there are cars nearby. The boy's fixation with anything on four wheels earned him the nickname "Tire Man" among relatives, after his habit of carefully inspecting rims and tread. And his curiosity occasionally gets the adventurous roamer into trouble.
"If a car's unlocked, it's fair game to him," says his grandmother, Anita Neudorf.
And on Sunday morning, Demetrius's fondness for cars got him into some very deep trouble. The boy wandered off from his parents' campsite near Taylor, B.C., with his prized toy, a motorized truck. While no one was looking, Demetrius angled his truck down a steep boat launch into the Peace River and suddenly found himself caught in the swift current, clinging to the toy as he was swept 12 kilometres downstream.
Incredibly, when rescuers caught up to Demetrius two hours later he was unscathed - cold, but still gripping his floating truck.
Don Loewen was on the boat that spotted the boy in the water, about 25 metres from shore. The four-wheeler had been flipped by the current, but the toddler had managed to climb on top of the upturned toy.
"He was kneeling on it on all fours, holding on to the steering axle. He was as still as he could be," said Mr. Loewen, who dived in and swam over to the boy.
Mr. Loewen and the other men in the boat quickly stripped off their own shirts to warm him up, but Demetrius - wearing just a T-shirt, a diaper and sneakers - wasn't concerned about the cold.
He won't even remember all that in a few years, but everybody else will.
"The first thing he said when they were wrapping him up was 'Where's the car at?'" said Mr. Loewen, a 54-year-old contractor from Rose Prairie who happened to be staying at the same campground that weekend.
The men dutifully dragged the truck onto the boat and brought it back to shore where Demetrius's panicked family were waiting. The RCMP officers who had been called in to co-ordinate the search took him to hospital, where he was treated for mild hypothermia and released a few hours later.
Demetrius's grandmother said his parents, who also have a four-month-old boy, are too shaken up to talk about what happened. Ms. Neudorf said that when Demetrius's parents asked him how he ended up in the water, he said just three words: "truck, boat, river."
"We think he meant his truck was his boat and he floated down the river," explained Ms. Neudorf.
Demetrius returned to the campground on Sunday, where a family party to mark the boy's upcoming birthday turned into a celebration to thank the dozens of other campers who had helped find him.
"He won't even remember all that in a few years, but everybody else will," Mr. Loewen said. "There's logjams and everything down that river. It's just absolutely a miracle."
With a report from Anupreet Sandhu Bhamra in Vancouver
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