Man Survives Spending 20 Minutes Underwater After Friend Allegedly Pushed Him into Lake

Christopher Gilbert, 26, sustained severe brain injuries in the near-drowning in Louisiana

<p></p> 20-Year-Old Hospitalized After Allegedly Pushed Into Lake by Friend and Spending 5 Minutes Underwater Before Rescue

20-Year-Old Hospitalized After Allegedly Pushed Into Lake by Friend and Spending 5 Minutes Underwater Before Rescue

A 26-year-old Louisiana man has been hospitalized after sustaining severe brain damage in a near-drowning — and his “devastated” family and friends are now calling on local authorities to take further action.

Christopher Gilbert, a recent Louisiana Tech University master’s graduate, nearly drowned on April 14 in Lake D'Arbonne in Farmerville while at a nearby restaurant with friends, according to local outlet KSLA.

Gilbert’s family alleges that one of his friends purposefully pushed him into the lake — knowing Gilbert didn’t know how to swim — and that he was underwater for about 20 minutes before a bystander eating at the restaurant dove into the water to pull him out, per the outlet.

Yolanda George, the victim’s mother, told KSLA that she received a call from one of the women in Gilbert's friend group shortly after the incident.

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“A friend of his called and she was hysterical crying. She told me that Chris has fell into the lake and he had been underwater for 20 minutes or so,” George said, adding that her son was flown to a Louisiana State University medical center for treatment.

After arriving at the hospital, George said that doctors told her Gilbert had severe brain damage from the near-drowning.

“The doctor called us in and told me that at that time, he was brain dead and the rest of his organs were starting to fail. That we had 72 hours on the ECMO machine. It's sort of like dialysis for the lungs and they had to put him on a ventilator,” she recalled.

<p></p> Christopher Gilbert poses with his master’s degree.

Christopher Gilbert poses with his master’s degree.

“I was devastated. I felt like my life had ended in that moment,” George added. “My son is aspiring to be a medical doctor, my son is going to be a medical doctor. He got his master’s last year in biological science. He's preparing for medical school so for this to have happened to him ... I was just devastated.”

According to his mother, Gilbert later regained consciousness, can now eat on his own and has temporarily been taken off of life-support, local station KNOE reported.

The family's attorney, Claudia Payne, told KSLA that Gilbert's friends initially told police that he had fallen into the lake, but further investigation revealed that a woman in the group had pushed him in the water. One friend attempted to pull Gilbert out of the water, Payne noted, but bystanders from the restaurant ultimately were the ones to pull him out and administer CPR until authorities arrived.

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“In the legal field, we characterize things the way we see fit. Of course, they are saying horseplay. We are saying that it was a criminal intentional push into the lake,” Payne told the outlet.

Payne and Gilbert's family also allege that members of the friend group knew that the recent graduate could not swim, despite one of the friends allegedly telling George: “Well ma'am, I didn't know that man couldn't swim.”

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In a petition that has garnered more than 2,700 signatures as of Sunday, May 5, Payne called on the Farmerville Police Department and the Union Parish Sheriff's Office to take action by making an arrest in the case.

“While my office has been retained to represent the family civilly, nothing else is needed for any law enforcement agency within this jurisdiction to make an arrest,” Payne wrote. “Our office would like the community’s support in requesting that the Farmerville Police Department, and or the Union Parish Sheriff's Office make an arrest of the known individual who pushed Chris into the lake.”

The Union Parish Sheriff's Office did not immediately respond to PEOPLE’s request for comment.

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