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'The valor of everyday heroes'

Police and emergency personnel, citizens honored for saving Lugoff woman's life

Posted: October 14, 2010 4:07 p.m.
Updated: October 15, 2010 5:00 a.m.
Martin L. Cahn/C-I

Virginia Wilder (right) hugs EMS Technician Tracey Gladden as EMS Technician Liz Wilson (left) looks on during a ceremony honoring the more than dozen EMS technicians, police officers, firefighters and citizens who came to her rescue after an Aug. 21 York Street accident. Wilder’s car flipped into a creek where she was said to have drowned.

 

More than a dozen heroes were honored Tuesday night by the city of Camden for their roles in saving the life of Lugoff resident Virginia Wilder.

Almost two months ago, Aug. 21, Wilder was driving down York Street when, for reasons still not clear, her car went off the road and flipped into a creek between Rippondon and Henry streets. Wilder was in the water for seven minutes. She drowned.

But she did not die.

In a poignant introduction at Camden City Council’s meeting Tuesday, City Manager Kevin Bronson told a capacity crowd of the efforts of two Camden Police Department (CPD) officers, seven Camden Fire Department (CFD) firefighters, two Kershaw County EMS technicians and seven civilians to free Wilder from her car, get her out of the water and resuscitate her.

“We expect the most from our police officers and firefighters,” Bronson began. “We expect they will run in the direction of danger while we move out of its way. We expect that day in and day out, they are ready to step in, step up and step forward to accept the dangers of a perilous situation so we don’t have to.

“We often hope the kindness of others will fall upon us in our times of need. We pray with less certainty for the hope that an individual, a passerby, will go beyond common courtesy to extraordinary bravery when our situation is grave and we cannot fend for ourselves.”

Bronson went on to say that the “courage, training and determination” of CPD, CFD and EMS workers was “put to the ultimate test,” and that civilians -- some with emergency training, some without -- would “shine in this instance of adversity.”

He said the exact details of who was where and when were fogged in the “chaos of the moment.”

“What we do know -- as providence would have it -- Ms. Pat Hodge saw Ms. Wilder’s car run off the road and flip into the water. Ms. Hodge immediately called 911 for assistance,” said Bronson. “Four passersby, Brad and Shawn Arrants, along with Charles Stuckey and Damion Brisbon, stopped upon seeing something unusual and bravely entered the situation. Only three minutes after the 911 call, (CPD) Ptl. Crayman Harvey and Sgt. David Hagan arrived on the scene and leaped into the water. Minutes after that, (CFD) Lt. Roger Roscoe and Eng. Skip Hannon arrived and jumped in. Soon after, EMS1, carrying Tracey Gladden and Liz Wilson arrived, followed by Engine 1 carrying Capt. Johnny Mullis, Lt. Chris Tidwell, Lt. Trey Thompson, Eng. Gavin Locklear and Eng. Abram Johnson.

“The scene was chaotic but not out of control. Each person worked with the next to do what had to be done to get Ms. Wilder free. No one was willing to give up. Ms. Wilder, while no one knew her name or anything about her at the time, was going to be freed and every effort was going to be given to her rescue.”

Bronson said that because the car couldn’t be flipped back over, those on the scene took turns diving down to find an escape route for Wilder. The group, including Harvey who used his asp, broke out the windshield and dove back under the water to look for Wilder, finally pulling her through the broken glass and to the surface.

“Ms. Wilder was now out of the car and out of the water,” Bronson said, “her lifeless body was quickly moved on to the embankment. EMS and firefighter personnel quickly began resuscitation efforts.

“Chris Byrd, a career firefighter in Columbia, drove the ambulance to the hospital while Tracey Gladden, Liz Wilson and William Glover, a volunteer firefighter in Camden and a career firefighter in Sumter, rode in the back of the ambulance, giving critical medical attention to Ms. Wilder.”

Once the ambulance left, Bronson said, those still on the scene were able to flip the vehicle over, determining no one else was in the car.

“So, how do we measure the valor of everyday heroes? How do we say they were courageous? How do we say that when, every day, they exhibit the same courage under countless stressful scenarios?” asked Bronson.

“Well, today we look at Ms. Wilder. We are thankful she is here with us and thankful for the extraordinary efforts of the men and women who chose to jump in because a life was at stake. And while it could have easily been you or me or any of our loved ones submersed alone in what could have been a watery grave, it was not. It was Ms. Wilder. She is here because these men and women acted passionately to save her,” Bronson concluded.

He then called each in turn -- only Shawn and Brad Arrants absent -- to receive letters of commendation from Camden Mayor Jeffrey Graham.

Bronson read the letters, using Hagan’s as an example, to the audience.

“The purpose of this letter is to formally and publically commend Sgt. David Hagan for the role that he played in responding to a vehicular accident that occurred on August 21, 2010.

“The actions taken by Sgt. David Hagan and the other responders saved the life of a citizen and demonstrated courage, teamwork and a high level of professionalism.

“Through this letter, the city of Camden wishes to thank Sgt. David Hagan for his actions and acknowledge the bravery that he displayed during this perilous event. Without the timely response of numerous city of Camden employees and citizens, the driver most certainly would not have survived.”

Wilder was brought up as well, to stand with the heroes who had saved her life.

“There are no words,” she said as pictures were taken.

During a short interview outside Camden City Hall following the meeting, she explained there were no words to say how she felt about the people who had rescued her that day.

“Thank you doesn’t seem like enough,” Wilder said.

She said she only knows about the accident from what others have told her.

“I have no memory of what happened, until I woke up a week later in the trauma room,” said Wilder, who explained doctors kept her sedated to make sure she wouldn’t remove IV lines and monitor leads. “My daughter told me the first thing I said was ‘Did I hurt anybody?’”

Wilder said after learning where her car ended up, she was concerned she might have hit a fisherman.

Wilder works at Lugoff’s Shoney’s restaurant. She said she tried to return to work last week, but was told she needed to wait a little longer.

“I’m hoping to go back to work in a couple of weeks,” Wilder said.

A few minutes earlier, while she had been hugging her rescuers, Mayor Graham commended the teamwork to save Wilder.

“They all worked together to save her life,” said Graham. “That’s important to the community. Firefighters, police officers and EMS workers and the response they give to protect this community is amazing. We’re always grateful for what they do every day. We’re proud to be honoring them and these citizens. Council is touched by this moment.”

Other business

* Council voted unanimously to award a $21,000 contract for hazardous tree removal to State Tree Service of Dalzell. The removal is being paid through a grant funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Graham was pleased they were able to choose a relatively local company.

“Dalzell is just a skip and a jump away -- I think it’s important that we use this money wisely,” Graham said.

He said the trees marked for removal are either dead or dying and their removal is important to the safety of Camden’s citizens.

Councilman Pat Partin noted that for each tree removed, the city will plant a new tree somewhere in the city if not in the same location. Councilman Ned Towell also pointed out those living nearest the removed trees can ask for free firewood cut from the trees.

* Council voted unanimously to proclaim this week as Fire Prevention Week and the month of October as International Alpha Delta Kappa Month.

Council will next meet in work session at 2:30 p.m. Oct. 21. Its next regular meeting will be at 8:30 a.m. Oct. 26. All meetings are held on the second floor of Camden City Hall, 1000 Lyttleton St., and are open to the public.

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