BY BOB DUMAS- EDITOR/*
It was a rainy, chilly Friday night in late April and things were quiet at il Laghetto Restaurant on South Lake Boulevard in Mahopac. Bartender Michelle Margilaj took a moment to glance out the window and its panoramic view of Lake Mahopac and what she saw startled her. “It wasn’t too busy and I was looking out the window and I saw some sort of white item oating in the water,” she said. “I realized it was a kayak and thought that was a little weird. It was freezing outside and raining.” Margilaj, 23, quickly realized the kayak had capsized and saw a man clinging to its side. “I went out there (on the restaurant’s dock) and called out, ‘Are you OK?’” she recalled. “He was pretty far out. I am wondering why they are out on the water on a day like that. It was pretty nasty out. He told me he was going to try to ip the kayak over.” ‑ e man’s attempts to right the kayak were failing and he continued to plead for help. “He asked if we had a boat we could use to come get them,” Margilaj said. “‑ at was when I heard, ‘help, help, help, please help!’ and I realized there was a child—a boy—with him.” Margilaj, a Hopewell Junction resident and Arlington High School graduate, has always been a strong swimmer. Her father was a passionate sherman and growing up she spent a lot of time around boats. Her father was adamant about his children being good swimmers. Without thinking and acting on pure instinct, Margilaj leaped into the lake and begin swimming toward the capsized kayak. “I didn’t feel how cold the water was. At that point you don’t feel anything, really,” she said. “You just think you have to help them. I knew if I stopped I would feel the cold, so I just kept going. ‑ e adrenaline just goes through you—you are not even thinking about anything else.
The traffic outside was absurd so I knew that even though we called 911 it was going to take a while for them to get here,” she added. “With that kind of thing you don’t want to wait.” Margilaj reached the two and realized the boy was wearing a lifejacket, but at this point it wasn’t really helping. “So I ipped him on his back so he would oat. He didn’t know how to swim; he was just in shock,” she said. “I told the father I would bring [the boy] in and come back for him, but he told me, ‘No, go in, I’ll be ne. I told him to hold on to the kayak and just kick your legs and you’ll get in.” ‑ e father was able to paddle in using the upside-down vessel to stay a oat, even though his legs had literally frozen up. “‑ ere were about 20 people here and [Margilaj] was the only person who had the courage to jump in,” said Victor Kapiti, il Laghetto’s owner. “‑ e father froze, literally froze, and the boy was screaming for help. Who’s going to help them? ‑ ey were screaming, ‘Help, help, help!’ She just jumped in with all her clothes.” Margilaj said the father, who was about 35 years old, told her that when he fell in the water his legs immediately froze, which rendered him unable to help his son. “‑ e father was frustrated because when you see your child in need and can’t do anything to help…well, it hurt me to see that.
They were in heavy clothes too – sweaters, sweatpants, sneakers.” Once the two were brought inside, the restaurant sta‑ went quickly to work to help them as they waited for the paramedics. “We put [the boy] on the couch in the backroom and covered him with about 10 tablecloths to keep him warm,” Kapiti said. “We stripped down the child; took o‑ all his clothes, his sneakers,” Margilaj added. “And then the cops came and then the EMTs and they were all awesome. e EMTs checked his pulse and his heartrate and offered for them to go to hospital. But he got warm and as far as I know they declined to go to the hospital.” It was about this time that Margilaj realized what she had done. “After I got in and I started thinking about it the shock got to me,” she said. “I started crying and started shivering very hard. My chest was hurting. ey gave me a blanket. Obviously, I went home at that point.” Margilaj, who lives with her parents, called her mom from the road and told her what had happened. “My mom was like, ‘pull over, pull over, daddy will come get you,’” she said with a chuckle. “But I just wanted to get home and take a hot shower. I was about halfway there anyway. I got home and my mom cooked me a hot meal and I was ne.” Margilaj said she hasn’t heard from the dad or his son, who was about 8 years old and named Matthew, since the incident. “I think [the dad] was pretty embarrassed about it,” she said. “It happened in front of all these people. But thankfully, everyone was OK.” Laurie Sweeney, who has been a waitress at the restaurant for about ve years, was the one who called 911. She said Margilaj has since become il Laghetto’s “resident hero.” “We were in the back folding napkins and [Margilaj] comes in and says she thinks one of the kayakers is having a problem,” Sweeney said. “We all went out to the dock. I had already called 911, but we knew it was going to take a few minutes for them to get down here. en all of a sudden, [Margilaj] was like Wonder Woman. She just took o‑ her boots and dove right in. Everybody was like, ‘Oh, my God, did she just do that?’ She is like a mermaid. She is our resident hero and we are very proud of her. She is a very, very good person. If I had jumped in they would have had to come save me.” “I am so proud of her,” added Kapiti. “I was very impressed; I didn’t know she had those skills. If I had tried it, I would have drowned with the kid.”(Courtecy: Mahopac News-THURSDAY, JUNE 30, 2016)