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Rescued Fort Erie river rafter sent back to Canada - by car
News Staff Reporter
A Fort Erie businessman who was rescued from a rubber raft in the Niagara River appeared in federal court late Wednesday to plead guilty to illegally entering the United States.

Authorities said Wayne E. Kingwell, 40, will be sent back to Canada. But this time, Kingwell will make the trip in a car.

Kingwell, who was arrested Monday morning after using a raft to cross the river in temperatures just above zero, told a judge he was sorry for what he did and would never do it again.

A Department of Homeland Security lawyer said Kingwell made the trip, carrying more than $4,000 cash, to pay a credit card bill at a bank in Buffalo.

His attorney said Kingwell is a former Canadian Coast Guard member who thought he would be "comfortable" making the river crossing but wound up with frostbite.

U.S. Magistrate Judge H. Kenneth Schroeder Jr. sentenced Kingwell to the jail time he has already served. The judge said he found the whole situation "bizarre."

"Your actions, while perhaps not the wisest, [were] not done with any evil intent," Schroeder said.

"It's been a pretty horrible ordeal for me, and I certainly have learned my lesson," Kingwell said.

Kingwell told the judge he suffers from depression at times and takes prescription medication for it "as needed."

He left the courtroom in handcuffs with U.S. Border Patrol officers, but authorities said they expect that he will soon be returned to Canada.

A shocked Grand Island man called 911 at about 7 a.m. Monday after seeing Kingwell adrift on the river. Grand Island firefighters and state troopers used a rope to get him to shore. He was treated for hypothermia and later taken into custody. Kingwell, who reportedly buys and sells cars over the Internet, told authorities he often crosses the river to pay his credit card bill at a Buffalo bank.

He told police that he can't drive over the Peace Bridge because of a past legal problem. According to court papers, Border Patrol officers arrested him in 1995 for illegally entering the United States over the International Railroad Bridge.

Police said Kingwell, using a flimsy four-foot rubber raft with plastic paddles, was lucky to survive the Monday morning crossing. They said he was on the river for almost three hours.

U.S. Attorney Terrance P. Flynn said he found no humor in Kingwell's bizarre actions.

"When a person does something like this, he's not only endangering himself, but police officers or firefighters who might have to go out and rescue him," Flynn said. "It's a dangerous thing to do."

On his way out of the courtroom, Kingwell said: "The way I see it . . . the terrorists have won against the people of Canada and the United States. They've made life very difficult for all of us."