Accidents happen closest to home, many say.
For Charlie Brown and Rick Sutherland, Haywood County residents on Little East Fork, danger floated right up to their doorstep during the flooding last August.
With the water on the rise with no sign of slowing down, Brown and Sutherland began moving cars, lawnmowers and even animals to higher ground.
Living on Lake Logan Road, Brown and Sutherland used the bridge to transport valuables away from the floodwaters.
“We went back to walk across the bridge to get more stuff. As we came across the bridge, some lady was hollering for help,” said Sutherland.
A local woman had driven her car through a lower area in the road and her car was stuck in the rising water. The woman was out of her car, desperately pleading for help.
“I thought maybe she wasn’t leaving her car because her purse or dog was in it,” said Brown.
When Sutherland and Brown approached the car, they quickly realized why the woman was so desperate: a handicapped woman and her dog were trapped inside the car.
The water was only ankle-deep, but rising steadily, so time was running short to rescue the woman.
“We could not get in the car. The doors were locked and the windows were shut,” said Sutherland.
Sutherland used multiple branches that had floated by to try and break the windows. Nothing worked. Brown, who can’t swim, ran back to his house to try and find his crowbar.
In a matter of minutes, however, the swirling water pushed the car toward the river, the woman and her dog still trapped inside.
“It happened so fast. If that car got to the river, she would be gone. My only thought was to keep the car away from the river,” said Sutherland.
Sutherland’s quick thinking allowed him to guide the vehicle toward a neighbor’s fence, where it became lodged and prevented it from being taken out into the river.
Despise stopping the car from being taken by the raging floodwater, Sutherland still couldn’t get the window open. And the water was now to the handicapped woman’s chest.
“I watched this poor handicapped girl in the seat that couldn’t talk at all,” said Sutherland. “It happened in minutes but felt like hours.”
Suddenly, Brown returned with his crowbar.
With one swift motion, the car window was busted open. Another man arrived ready to help, and the tired men turned it over to him to finish. The man pulled the handicapped woman from the car window and carried her to safety, along with her dog.
In the proceeding days, the wrecker crews went to work removing debris from the area. After five days, the woman’s car was finally towed away from the fence, the last remnant of their dangerous day.
Brown is a lifelong Haywood resident, so coming to the aid of his neighbors is nothing new. And his swift action and handy crowbar likely saved the woman’s life.
For Sutherland, a Florida transplant in 2020, the rescue solidified his standing among his neighbors. Thanks to his quick thinking, the car was stopped from being pulled into the raging river, where surely the woman would’ve died.
The 2020 floods damaged more than just property and land but also left lasting memories on residents of Haywood County. For many, those memories can be haunting.
For the residents of Lower East Fork, however, they can rest easy knowing a couple of heroes live right down the street.