Memorial funds have been established to help the family of a Medina man who died Saturday after saving a teenage girl from the rough waters of Lake Erie.
Pete Radke, 43, was with his two daughters and some of their friends celebrating one daughter's birthday party at Huntington Beach in Bay Village when a 16-year-old girl from Georgia was in distress in the water, authorities said.
Radke and others went to assist the girl. It is unclear exactly what happened, but eyewitnesses say Radke pushed the teen toward safety amid high waves crashing over rocks. He then disappeared into the water.
Authorities searched for three hours before finding Radke's body about 9 p.m. Autopsy results are pending at the Cuyahoga County Coroner's Office.
The girl, whom Radke did not know, survived, but not before struggling more in the water.
Bay Village Fire Chief Chris Lyons said Tuesday that when two of his firefighters reached the girl, who was about 75 feet to 100 feet beyond a pier amid 7-foot waves and 55 degree water, she was tired and nearly drowning.
The girl told the firefighters, "Tell my mother I love her," Lyons said in a phone interview. "She thought she was done for."
The chief said that the firefighters told her she could tell her mother herself.
Lyons called Radke a hero for his bravery in helping the girl and said it appears he was able to help her before they got separated.
"... the kind of bravery it took to just forget about one's own safety and charge out there -- I consider that a heroic virtue," Lyons said.
Lyons said Lake Erie's waters can be deceptive, and "we can get some pretty nasty waves."
He said it is unknown why the teen was in the water.
The Radke family has not been in touch with the girl, but Radke's younger brother, Matt, said in a phone interview Tuesday: "We're just glad she's OK. Our thoughts and prayers go out to her as well."
Family and friends have said it was no surprise that Radke's last act would be to help another person. Matt Radke said his brother "was living out his faith."
"He was a very humble, kind guy and just had a very strong faith. He was a leader in his church and just a family man," said Radke, an area firefighter.
Radke said he and others were touched that while divers were searching for his brother Saturday, Lyons stood among friends and family and prayed with them.
"I'm a fireman, and I've never seen a fireman come alongside family and pray with them at the scene," said Matt Radke, who added that Lyons did not realize that he had ministered to the group of pastors and strong believers.
Lyons said Tuesday that, "I just figured it seemed like there were some folks who were in need of some support beyond my ability to give, so I turned to the person who could do that."
The Radkes' late father was a pastor in Strongsville, and Pete Radke and his wife, Michelle, were active with their four children at Grace Church in Bath Township.
In a Facebook post on her husband's page, Michelle Radke thanked friends and family for their love and support.
"To say I am devastated to lose my best friend, my rock and my lover does not enough come close to the pain that is part of me every second of the day," she wrote in part of a long post.
"... I know with all the thousands of people sharing my grief, I will be able to stand and honor my husband. He was a hero to me before his final act, but knowing that he died to save another makes me so much prouder of the man he was ... He loved God, he loved family, he was always, always so confident in his faith and where he would spend eternity."
Friends have started two funds for the family. One fund, www.peteradkefund.com, will accept Paypal donations. Contributions also are being accepted at Fifth Third in the "Peter Radke Fund" and at Chase branches, under "Michelle Radke, Account 2986259782."
A separate Facebook fundraising campaign also had raised nearly $14,000 as of Tuesday evening.
Fred Hartman, a childhood friend of Radke's, said the goal is "to provide ongoing, long-term support of the family."
"Pete was a meek, mild-mannered individual, which was such a rare thing these days," Hartman, of Medina, said. "I was with him in private and public settings and pressure settings and he always held it together and was a shining example to us. ... He loved his family and he loved his friends. To have somebody genuine like that is just a rare thing."
Radke, a Berea native, was a social media specialist at Akron-based Hitchcock, Fleming & Associates. He also owned his own small business, RocksTech, which provided technology services to small companies in Northeast Ohio.
Calling hours will be 3 to 8 p.m. Friday at Grace Church's Bath campus, 754 Ghent Road. Funeral services will be 10 a.m. Saturday at the church.
By Betty Lin-Fisher - The Akron Beacon Journal
©2014 Akron Beacon Journal (Akron, Ohio)
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