Men trapped by high water saved

Published 12:00 am Sunday, September 3, 2006

Mark Chavis and Laura Gray knew their friend was stuck in muddy water, the lingering aftereffects of Tropical Storm Ernesto.

But the couple, who responded to Jonathon “Crock”

Crocker’s mobile phone call for help around 9:15 p.m. Friday, didn’t expect to find a Plymouth Neon trapped in nearly 4 feet of swiftly-moving water on Old Mill Road, said Gray, a volunteer firefighter from Boykins.

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“We thought we’d

pull the car out and go on about our business,” said Gray.

But that’s not how the story played out.

Crocker and his friend, Bubba Babb, who is confined to a wheelchair or crutches, were traveling down Old Mill Road when they encountered the water, according to accounts by Gray and Capt. Jim Judkins, spokesman for the Suffolk Department of Fire and Rescue. Rather than dialing 9-1-1 for help, Crocker called Chavis for assistance.

When she saw what they were dealing with, Gray suited up in her fire gear and began wading in water that became deeper as she moved closer to the car. Meanwhile, she said, Chavis, detouring through several nearby roads, drove around to see if the vehicle would be more approachable from the opposite side of the water.

“The water wasn’t too deep at first,” Gray said. “But then it dropped off and the current picked up.”

She estimated the current was moving about 25 mph or so, fast enough that they would need help with the rescue. That’s when she called 9-1-1.

“The water was deep, up to my hips in places,” Gray said. “It was kind of warm … and you could see and feel snakes moving in the water. I’m petrified of snakes.”

Before rescuers arrived, Chavis returned and was able to lift Babb across the car’s console and carry him to safety, Gray said. They then helped Crocker out of the car.

Gray admitted there were moments that she feared for the men’s lives.

“I was scared we weren’t going to be able to get them out. But then Mark’s adrenaline kicked into action.”

Neither of the two men suffered any injuries, Judkins said. After being treated at the scene by the Nansemond-Suffolk Volunteer Rescue Squad, they were taken home by Gray and Chavis.

They were extremely fortunate, said Judkins.

Heavy rainfall occasionally causes a creek off Old Mill Road, located in the rural Myrtle community, to flood, he said. Fire reports indicate that the car was floating in 4 feet of water when rescuers arrived.

“Once the car had filled with water, the current could very easily have swept it down … and carried it into the woods out of sight,” said Judkins, adding that freshwater flooding is the main cause of death during

hurricanes and other tropical-weather events.

“I would say that this couple’s actions were instrumental in saving their (Crocker and Babb’s) lives,” he said. “Usually, situations like this do not have a good outcome.

“They definitely gave this story a happy ending.”

Efforts to reach Babb and Crocker were unsuccessful.