It was the screaming that alerted New Franklin resident Capt. Chris Chokreff and spurred him to action Sunday to save the life of a drowning older man.

He didn’t see the kayak overturn and isn’t sure how the accident occurred. It may have been a wake created by a speeding boat in the no-wake area of West Reservoir near his home on Alp Court.

He’s not sure. But it was the sound of fear that first alerted him.

“I heard a bunch of young girls screaming,” Chokreff said Monday. “This was a panic screaming.”

Chokreff, 64, looked around, saw the man in the water about 100 to 120 feet off shore.

“They were in the kayaks trying to pull him out of the water,” Chokreff said. “He was struggling to keep his head up.”

Chokreff ripped off his T-shirt and threw his glasses on his deck. He remembered from his Eagle Scout training that this wasn’t the way to rescue a drowning man, but he grabbed a hand float and dived in.

It was just by chance that Chokreff was at home.

Every year, Chokreff abandons his home state when the cold weather season starts and heads for Key Largo, Fla., where he operates a business using the U.S. Coast Guard Captain’s license he holds. When summer returns to New Franklin, so does he.

Chokreff had returned home Thursday. Many years, he might still be in Florida.

“It’s just a miracle I made it up here,” he said.

As Chokreff swam out, he saw the man positioned between the two still-floating kayaks. Later, he said it appeared that a family of about seven inexperienced boaters, including the man in the water, had rented the three kayaks.

“[He was] face down, submerged,” Chokreff said. “I pushed the kayaks out of the way. They were trying to pick him out and they couldn’t.”

Chokreff used his training to maneuver the man in the lifesaving position he had learned.

“He probably only weighed 120 pounds dry, but felt like he weighed 200 pounds wet,” Chokreff said.

The man was fully dressed with leather shoes on.

As Chokreff neared the docks, another man with an inflatable inner tube jumped in to help. The older man was in bad shape.

“His face was blue-yellow; he wasn’t doing well,” Chokreff said.

That’s when fate intervened again.

A few houses down from Chokreff, paramedic Mike Palmer, a Hartville resident, happened to be visiting his mother, Linda Palmer.

Mike Palmer, too, had heard the commotion and knew something was wrong.

“I was in the kitchen and I heard the kids screaming hell,” Palmer said on Tuesday.

He ran to the dock where Chokreff had placed the drowning man.

“He was blue,” Palmer said. “He was lifeless.”

Palmer said he performed CPR on the man, doing compressions for about a minute.

Finally, the man coughed, spit up water, and became “more and more rousable,” Palmer said.

Only a couple of the man’s family members spoke English, but they were all appreciative, Palmer said.

“I got multiple hugs from the mother and his wife,” Palmer said.

Neither Chokreff or Palmer are sure what caused the kayak to overturn.

Both men suspect a passing boat threw a wake that helped to overturn the kayak. The lake is far busier than it used to be, Chokreff said, and many boaters aren’t familiar with — or don’t respect — the rules of the water.

“People are going too fast,” said Palmer. “It’s a putt-putt lake.”

The Portage Lakes arm of the Ohio Division of Natural Resources is investigating the incident, but details are unavailable until the report is completed.

“We can confirm that ODNR watercraft officers were already patrolling the lakes when officers responded to a report of a capsized kayak,” an official said Tuesday.

Another ODNR source was able to confirm the near drowning, rescue and transport.

New Franklin police declined on Tuesday to discuss the incident. The department responded to the scene on Sunday, but hasn’t posted a report.

Although Chokreff and Palmer don’t know the nearly-drowned man’s name, he is expected to make a full recovery. They are both hopeful a relative of the man who took their phone numbers will call with details on his recovery.

ODNR Outreach and Media Specialist Maureen Kocot said that the incident gives extra emphasis to the agency’s call to wear flotation vests when boating. It’s required by law for children under 10 to wear a lifejacket, she said.

Chokreff said he’d like to see a dummy police boat stationed nearby on busy days to deter speeders.

“It’s getting kind of crazy out there,” he said.

Alan Ashworth can be reached at 330-996-3859 or emailed at aashworth@thebeaconjournal.com. He can be followed on Twitter at @newsalanbeaconjournal.