On the day he jumped in the Inner Harbor to save a stranger’s life, Tom Walsh wasn’t even supposed to be at work. Wednesday was his day off, but he had come into Phillips Seafood anyway to speak with his boss.
“That’s just Tom,” said Michelle Torres, corporate director of marketing and business development for Phillips. In the four years that Walsh has been with the company, he has been “a stellar employee, a leader in our kitchen,” she said.
Torres spoke with The Baltimore Banner a day after Walsh, a military veteran and Phillips sous chef, rescued a driver who crashed a car into the Inner Harbor just outside the rear of the restaurant.
Walsh, who received stitches after the rescue, isn’t interested in doing interviews, Torres said. He didn’t save a life to get heaps of praise — though many were doing that on social media.
“Give the sous chef the key to the city,” said one person on Twitter. Many were stunned by the bravery of his jumping into the famously filthy harbor water. “Even if I could swim I’m not jumping in the harbor.” Another joked: “I think he gets a second shift drink tonight.”
Another remarked: “I would watch a movie about this sous chef.”
The chef has Hollywood connections, as first reported by People. Walsh’s father is the actor Dylan Walsh, whose credits include the TV series “Superman & Lois” and “Nip/Tuck.” A representative for the actor confirmed the connection to The Banner and said the elder Walsh is “very proud” of his son.
Torres said Tom Walsh had been on his way out when he noticed the commotion outside.
A white car had plunged into the cold water near the Power Plant, and the driver was still inside.
Jordan Payne was walking to work at Phillips when she saw a crowd of people peering into the Inner Harbor. She rushed back to the restaurant to tell the others.
Mike Malone, from Jacksonville, Florida, saw the driver’s window was partway down. The car was slowly sinking. “Get out the window, get out!” he yelled.
When Payne returned to the water’s edge, she saw the driver was still inside. “He’s not trying to get out, not making an effort or anything,” she remembered.
Walsh jumped in with all his clothes on.
Maybe it was the Army training. To jump in to save the life of a stranger “was normal to him,” said Torres. “I don’t know if a lot of people could say that.”
Walsh swam to the car and punched the window with his bare fist.
“He’s, like, banging on the window, trying to break it,” Payne said.
It all happened fast. Payne doesn’t remember if the driver’s window broke or if it was the windshield. Malone had turned away to find help. He came back to see the chef in the water.
“I have chills,” Torres said, recalling the event Thursday. “He’s so quiet, he went right into action.” Restaurant industry workers tend to go above and beyond, said Torres. It’s in their blood. But this was different.
“I saw him when he had the guy, he was trying to hold him up, he was trying to pull him to safety,” Malone said.
Someone threw out a life ring for them to grab onto.
On the street, the driver was conscious and did not appear hurt to Payne. She noticed Walsh’s hand.
“His hand is like, all the way cut up. His whole knuckles are busted,” she said.
Torres said she walked out of the restaurant to see Walsh standing and dripping. As medics tended to him, he was more concerned with how the driver he’d saved was doing. “The focus was on the victim,” Torres said.
Update: looks like car has been dredged from Inner Harbor by @BaltimorePolice @BaltimoreBanner pic.twitter.com/TkgRR9cLLj— Christina Tkacik (@ChristinaTkacik) March 22, 2023
The city fire department later issued a statement saying emergency crews responded shortly after 4 p.m. to the car in the water and that a bystander jumped in to rescue the occupant. Two people were taken to the hospital with minor injuries.
Soon, Malone was back on his way, and Payne was back to work at Phillips.
A day after the event, the restaurant’s staff members were “still shaken up, to be honest with you,” Torres said. At the same time, they’re incredibly proud to work with someone like Walsh.
He’s on the schedule to work Thursday afternoon. Torres said the restaurant told him he doesn’t need to come in for his shift, but she thinks he probably will, anyway. That’s Walsh.
Baltimore Banner reporter Krishna Sharma contributed to this report.
This article has been updated to correct the last name of the sous chef.