JACKSON, KY – (May 10, 2005) -- Two employees of the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet’s Lee County maintenance crew are being hailed as heroes for rescuing a motorist who had climbed to the top of his car to escape rising floodwaters last week.
Drexel Creech and Aaron Gay rescued Ronnie Paul Smith of Booneville about 6 a.m. on Saturday, April 30. The Owsley County resident had followed a large truck into high water triggered by heavy rain on KY 52 at Sandfield in western Lee County. The truck made it through, but Smith’s vehicle stalled. As waters from Sinking Creek continued to rise around the trapped vehicle, Smith was forced to climb to the roof of his car around 3 a.m. to escape the flood.
"We had gotten called out because of clogged culverts in the area," Creech said. "We had also put out some ‘High Water’ signs. We spotted him on top of his car, trapped by the water."
Creech said that he and Gay decided to rescue the stranded motorist. They later learned that the Lee County Rescue Squad had been notified and a boat was on the way.
"I ‘braved up’ and drove the dump truck into the water, and we got him off the top of the car and to safety," Creech said.
Lee County Rescue Squad Captain Eugene Barrett said that it was his understanding that the motorist was on his way to Richmond for dialysis. After his rescue, the motorist was suffering from hypothermia and was transported by ambulance to a Richmond hospital by another route to bypass the flooded KY 52.
Creech is a superintendent I with the Lee County maintenance crew, and Gay is an equipment operator II.
"Part of our goal to provide a safe and reliable transportation system is the dedication of our state employees to their fellow Kentuckians," said Bill Nighbert, acting Secretary, Kentucky Transportation Cabinet. "The bravery of these two employees to put themselves at risk to rescue a stranded motorist from a flood is very much appreciated and we at the Transportation Cabinet salute them and applaud their unselfish act. I am proud of Mr. Creech and Mr. Gay and congratulate them."
Linda Wagner-Justice, chief district engineer for District 10, which includes Lee County, also praised the actions of the two men.
"Our employees routinely put themselves at risk, because highway maintenance is by its very nature dangerous work," Justice said. "The actions of Drexel Creech and Aaron Gay were above and beyond the call of duty. They acted at significant risk to themselves to rescue a fellow citizen. We are very proud of them, and grateful to them for their actions. They quite likely saved a life by their efforts, without thought to the risks they were taking."
Wagner-Justice also pointed out that this incident is further proof that motorists should not drive into flooded areas.
"Floods are a leading cause of weather-related deaths," she said. "It cannot be stressed enough that motorists should not try to drive on flooded roads. The depth of the water can be deceptive, especially at night, and currents from rushing floodwaters can sweep a car away. It’s best to turn around and find another route, or to wait for the water to recede."