Trooper Levern Bynum of the state Highway Patrol said Sam Kearney “immediately took action and jumped in the creek and pulled the elderly woman out of the creek,” after the car she was a passenger in careened down a steep embankment near Walnut Grove Road in the Roanoke Rapids area.
“There was no hesitation,” Bynum said. “When I got on the scene everyone was pointing him out.”
The single-car crash occurred shortly before 1:30 p.m. when Rachael Wills, 78, and her son, Bruce, 53, were leaving services at Carter Chapel Missionary Baptist Church.
Bynum said Mr. Wills became distracted and tried to swat at a yellowjacket which was in the vehicle, taking his eyes off the road.
Lydia Kearney, Sam’s mother, said they were behind the vehicle when the crash occurred. “I saw him get in the grass and get further (off the roadway). The car disappeared.”
Sam said, “I saw the car in the water and knew I had to do something because it could turn the wrong way.”
After jumping in, Sam observed Ms. Wills was tangled in her seat belt. “Her head went under water a little bit. What I knew was I had to stay calm. I feel like we were at the right place at the right time. God helped get them free from the car.”
Mrs. Kearney jumped in to help the Wills who were banging on the windows and calling for help.
They loosened mud from around the doors to pop them open and then helped with getting Ms. Wills untangled from her seat belt.
Sam has been swimming since he was at least 12, he said. They made it back up the embankment by fashioning toe holes and crawling.
Sam was scratched by sticky briars and so was his mother. His iPhone was destroyed but his mother said, “He doesn’t care. I told him he just saved two people’s lives.”
Mrs. Kearney is a full-time student at Halifax Community College in the human services program who also helps several elderly people within the church.
Sam plays the drums at church and is taking further music lessons. He is also on the Northwest football team.
“My son is a hero today,” Mrs Kearney said. “I know God placed that care in his heart for all people.”
As the decision was made to jump in, she said, “He looked in my eyes and said, ‘Ma, I got to do it.’”
She said, “My son is a caring, loving, respectable son. He’s a down to earth 14-year-old. He’s very cool and calm and mature for his age. He’s the man of the house, takes out the garbage, takes care of the cars and yard and takes care of his grandma. He’s a rock. Just to be able to save a life is the most wonderful feeling you can have.”
Said Bynum, “In my opinion it sheds good light for the younger generation to see a young man display that heroism. It speaks volumes for the future.”
Bynum said Mr. Wills will be cited for failure to maintain lane control.
Ms. Wills was taken to Halifax Regional for treatment and is expected to be OK, the trooper said.