'You're Not Going to Die Tonight'

William "Al" Slaughter is recovering at George Washington University Hospital after slipping into the Washington Channel on Monday night. (By John Mcdonnell -- The Washington Post)
By Allison Klein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 24, 2007

It was unlucky that William "Al" Slaughter was wearing his slick, new dress shoes as he walked on an icy dock next to his houseboat on D.C.'s Southwest waterfront Monday night.

In an instant, he skidded deep into the 38-degree water and could not hoist himself out of the Washington Channel, he said. It was 10:30, and not a soul was around to hear him cry "Help!"

After about 10 minutes, Slaughter, 53, who is a crewman on a yacht that cruises the Potomac River, started to lose muscle control in the frigid water, he said. Just then, he could not believe his eyes: Three men were ambling along the street by the Washington Marina, separated from him by a seven-foot-high iron fence.

He yelped for them, and one, aided by the others, climbed over the fence and ran over to Slaughter, who was struggling to keep his head above water.

Floyd Lipscomb, who police said is homeless, tried to pull Slaughter out of the channel. But he did not have the strength to pull Slaughter and his heavy wool coat out of the water, Slaughter said last night from his room at George Washington University Hospital.

So Lipscomb held on tight to Slaughter's arm and told him: " 'You're not going to die tonight. I'm going to hold on to you. I got you,' " Slaughter said.

The two other men, also homeless, identified by police as Duke "Showtime" Kelley and DeLeon Butler, alerted officers that a man had fallen into the water in the 1100 block of Maine Avenue. Slaughter feared he might drown right next to where he lived, on a houseboat christened Finished Business.

Slaughter said he thinks he lost consciousness a few times while Lipscomb waited for help. But Lipscomb never let him go under, he said.

"Had he not been there, I would have quietly slipped to the bottom," said Slaughter, who works for his brother's cruise business, Capital Yacht Charters.

D.C. police harbor patrol officer Hilliard Dean said he arrived at the scene about two minutes after receiving the call for help. Kelley and Butler hoisted Dean over the fence so he could also aid Slaughter, Dean said.

Dean and Lipscomb each grabbed one of Slaughter's arms and tugged him out of the water. Hypothermia had already set in, Dean said.

"[Lipscomb] is jumping up and down hollering and saying, 'I saved somebody's life!' " Dean said. "He was excited he did something great."

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