Watch: Ala. deputies recount harrowing river rescue of child

The deputies, who had battled swift currents, each received life-saving awards

By Erica Smith
The Decatur Daily, Ala.

ATHENS, Ala. — Two Limestone County sheriff's deputies were honored last week by the Limestone County Commission for a harrowing rescue of a drowning juvenile.

On July 15, around 6 p.m., 28-year-old Deputy Jake Abernathy, who has been a Limestone County deputy since December 2018, was the first to respond to a dispatch call involving the Elk River.

"I was headed home, heard the call come out from dispatch for possible juvenile drowning. It was near my house, so I knew I'd be the closest," he said. "I went there and made contact with the victim.

"I pulled him to a log, but the current kept pulling me under with him. I got him to hold onto the log, but he kept losing consciousness, so he let go of the log."

Chief Deputy Fred Sloss said the rescue effort was perilous.

"The current was very swift," Sloss said. When the victim let go of the log," he went down river. Deputy Abernathy went about 800 yards. He grabbed him and tried to take control of him and swim back across the river."

Abernathy said he relied on training and experience.

"I pulled him as far as I could, but then I started going underwater. I found a log about the same time Deputy (Lucas) Ferrell arrived. The main thing going through my mind was just remembering my training from the military. Stay calm, control my breathing and find the easiest way back to the bank so my teammates could help," Abernathy said.

Ferrell, 27, is still in the academy and graduates in December. He arrived on the scene just a few minutes after Abernathy.

"We ran about a quarter mile through the woods to locate Deputy Abernathy and the victim," he said.

He said he quickly saw that Abernathy and the victim had been separated.

"Other than the thought of those two needing help, there wasn't much thinking going on, just doing," Ferrell said.

"I took my vest and duty belt off and jumped in. I first swam to Deputy Abernathy to make sure he was OK, then swam to grab the victim. Once I grabbed the victim, I started swimming to shore where other deputies threw a rope to pull us to the bank."

The victim was put into a basket, then everyone helped carry him to an ambulance, Ferrell said. Abernathy was pulled out of the river to safety with a rope.

The deputies are grateful the victim survived.

"I'm just glad the guy has a chance to make more memories with his friends and family," Abernathy said.

"I feel proud of everyone involved," Ferrell added. "Proud that a young man was saved and gets a chance to continue to live his life. Thankful to work alongside some great deputies that did everything they could to ensure we all went home safely."

Both deputies reject the idea that they are heroes.

"Absolutely not," Abernathy said. "Heroes are the ones that never make it home, such as the 13 servicemen and women recently killed in Afghanistan."

Ferrell does not believe he should be called a hero, either. "I've been called that a lot lately. Honestly, I feel no different. It was just another day doing the job I swore (to) the citizens of Limestone County I'd do."

The experience reaffirmed for both deputies the importance of their oath and their commitment to the job.

"Anytime I can help out the people in my community where I grew up, it always makes me proud to be a deputy," Abernathy said.

"My goal is to make a difference every day, no matter big or small," Ferrell said. "Seeing that happen after this event confirms that I'm doing what I set out to do and motivates me to keep doing it."

(c)2021 The Decatur Daily (Decatur, Ala.)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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