Just two days before the 1986 basketball team was to be honored at the Morgan County basketball game, one of those team members came within minutes of not being at the event. Former star Bulldog, Denny Wyatt, was saved by neighbors while fishing on a local lake after his boat capsized. Had it not been for the quick thinking and actions of Mark Grubaugh and Herb Payne, Wyatt would have succumbed to hypothermia and/or possibly drowning. Wyatt said, “It was an act of God, and these two men were the angels that saved my life.”
What started out as a little relaxation time on a beautiful 66 degree Wednesday afternoon almost turned tragic for Wyatt. According to his account of that day, he had called his friend Alvin Richardson to ask for permission to fish in the community pond that covers more than 26 acres in a pristine part of the county in Swords. All the neighbors of that small group allow family and a few close friends to take advantage of the crappie and bass populations that thrive there. An avid fisherman, Wyatt said he was hoping to catch a few for the skillet, but was just enjoying some time off by himself.
With no trolling motor to use, he was paddling the boat to some favorite spots and decided to anchor the jon boat near the middle of the pond. Upon leaving that spot, and in pulling up the anchor, he somehow lost his balance and was flipped into near-freezing water. He said, “I thought, well, I’m a good swimmer so I’ll be OK.” Getting back into the boat became a major problem even though he tried several methods to pull himself into the boat. On his last attempt, the boat capsized. Fortunately, the boat trapped enough air underneath to keep the boat afloat. But, this left him stranded with about three-fourths of his body still in the water and nowhere to go. “I thought of swimming for it, but my clothes were so heavy and I was so tired by that time, I was afraid I wouldn’t make it.” Instead, he began yelling for help.
That’s where homeowner Mark Grubaugh stepped in. He said, “I had seen someone fishing out there earlier that day. I drove to the Post Office and upon returning my wife wanted to go for a walk. While out there, I kept hearing what I thought was someone yelling, help, help, help. I thought it might be some other neighbors, but I kept hearing it. That’s when I told my wife that I needed to go and check on things. I drove up the road, turned off the truck, and could still hear it, but couldn’t tell which direction it was coming from. On my final stop, it was obvious that it was coming from the lake. That’s when I saw a person hanging onto a capsized boat and knew I had to act quickly. When I got close enough, he was asking if I could please help him. I told him to hold on brother, I’m going to get you out of there.”
Grubaugh raced back to his house to get some rope. He then went to see if Payne’s boat was in the water. It was, but it was chain latched to the dock and didn’t have a trolling motor or paddle in it. He says he hurried to the closest side to Wyatt and went in chest deep in the 42 degrees water to get close enough to throw him a rope. Grubaugh said, “I didn’t even feel the coldness of the water at that time because the adrenaline was really pumping in me.” That’s when Payne came flying in on his four-wheeler to lend any help he could. He had already called 911 and people were on their way.
Payne also went to his dock and was able to unlock the boat to get to Wyatt. Without a paddle or motor, the only thing he could find was a piece of plywood that he used as a makeshift paddle to reach him. Payne said, “He was fading fast, but he never panicked. I told him not to grab the boat or me or we would both drown. He promptly obliged my instructions and simply held onto his boat until I was able to push him to shore where Mark was waiting. The two were able to pull him in by rope and get him into shallow enough water to drag him to shore.”
Wyatt was far from being out of harm’s way as hypothermia had begun to take its toll. Payne told him at the picture-taking session that his arms were so rigid that they couldn’t straighten them. A sheriff’s deputy arrived within minutes of the first 911 call as well as paramedics, fire personnel, and an ambulance shortly after. According to Wyatt, they immediately got his wet clothes off and began the process of trying to restore his body temperature back to normal. Wyatt was immediately transported to Morgan Memorial Hospital and then to Augusta University Health Center. Due to the shock to his system his heart had begun to go into afibrillation.
He was put on a heart monitor in Augusta and things began to return to normal the next day. He was released Thursday night and given permission to attend the Basketball Team Event Friday wearing a heart monitor.
“I’m lucky to be alive. These two men saved my life. I’m glad I didn’t panic. If I had it wouldn’t have ended well.” Wyatt said he was talking to God for a good part of that time in the water and said, “I was wondering if this is how my life would end, but I didn’t give up. I stayed patient and all the rescue personnel had perfect timing. I’m a blessed man. One of the nurses told me that she had been working there for 30 years and I was the first person that she knew of that survived a situation like that.” A deeply-religious man, Wyatt attended church the following Sunday as he always does. “I gave my testimony at church and it anointed everyone. You’re looking at a miracle. I thank God, Herb, and Mark for giving me a new chance at life.” When the three men gathered at Grubaugh’s house for photos and to relive those tense minutes, there were hugs all around and a few tears.
Grubaugh made these comments about the harrowing experience, “We estimated that he was in the water for at least 40 minutes. Most people would not have survived that. Everything happened so perfectly from the wind blowing in the right direction to hear his calls from one-half mile away, no leaves on the trees to buffer the sound, to the EMT’s getting there in great response time, to Herb also hearing him from inside his house, to God providing a piece of plywood, to Denny’s physical conditioning. It was all orchestrated by the hand of God. I can’t stress how miraculous this was. That day was not the day for him. I was baptized the Sunday after the rescue and had it planned for some time. It’s been a very spiritual week for me.”
Morgan County Fire and Rescue were impressed with the efforts of these heroic neighbors to save Wyatt’s life.
“If it weren’t for the quick and self-less act of these two neighbors, the outcome would definitely be much worse,” said Fire Chief Jeff Stone. “Mr. Wyatt was quickly placed in the ambulance and hypothermia protocols were initiated. That consists of warming the environment (the back of themed unit with the heat on full), warm IV Fluid, and placing heat packs around the body along with a warming blanket. The blanket is familiar to many people as it looked like a big piece of aluminum foil. Mr. Wyatt was then transported to local a facility and since has been transported to Augusta for further observations. It is because of citizens like Mr. Payne and Mr. Grubaugh that make Morgan County such a wonderful county and place to live. Morgan County Fire Rescue wishes to extend a public thank you and job well done to both Mr. Herb Payne and Mr. Mark Grubaugh, for taking the necessary immediate action, with no regard to their own safety, in order to truly save another person’s life. You both are true heroes. God Bless the both of you.”
Payne added his thoughts, “It was nothing more than divine intervention that saved his life. And a set of lungs to hear him that far away. It wasn’t me or Mark. We were just instruments doing his work. There’s no thanks needed. Anyone would have done whatever they could to try and help someone in that situation. We were fortunate to be there at the right time. My biggest thought is I’m just glad that Denny Wyatt is alive. He’s one tough son-of-a-gun.”
Payne left us with this saying that a buddy of his and he has. It’s so true. “All life’s roads aren’t straight. You never know what God’s gonna throw in front of you and you just…you just do the deal.”