When Heather Vance, an employee at the Sebree Subway, stepped outside to take a fifteen minute break on Thursday afternoon, she had no idea that her actions over the next few moments would change someone else’s life forever. But that was exactly what happened.
According to Sebree Police Chief William Braden, it was another average day in the city of Sebree. Semi trucks and other traffic heading north and south on US 41 passes in a never ended flow of vehicles. CSX trains blew threw town on the rail line located around three hundred yards away. Customers came and went from Subway, the tobacco shop and the bank just like they did every other day.
Upon seeing a city employee and an inmate spraying weeds, Braden pulled into a nearby parking lot for a chat. As the the chief was talking with the city worker, Vance caught his attention.
“She said, ‘Did you hear that? Someone was yelling for help,’ ” Braden said.
Chief Braden had not heard anything. Neither had the city employee he was talking to or the inmate that was working with him. In fact, it seemed that none of the customers coming in and out of the businesses in the area had heard anything either.
Vance, however, was adament that she had heard someone calling for help, so Braden and the city employee went to investigate.
Some 300 yards, or the length of three football fields away, a man was found laying on the ground in a creek bed beneath the train trestle. He was weak and was suffering from a very severely injured leg.
Between Vance’s location and the injured man was not just a distance of 300 yards, but two tree lines, a field and a busy highway. Still, she had managed to hear the call for help.
A fateful decision
On Thursday morning, a man that authorities have declined to name set out on foot for the city of Henderson. While neither his name or where he was from has been released, Braden did say that the man was not from Webster County.
“He told me that because of the traffic on US 41, he thought that heading north on the railroad would be safer,” Braden said.
So instead of facing the constant flow of traffic on the highway, the traveler set out on foot along the CSX railroad main line. However, he did not get far from Sebree before tragedy hit.
In a scene straight out of the classic movie “Stand By Me”, as he started across the railroad trestle over Mock Roy Creek, a train appeared in the distance. Unlike teenage Will Wheaton and Jerry O’Connel, this traveler decided not to make a run for it, opting instead to get out of the way.
According to Braden, however, its believed that as he tried to get out of the way, weight in his backpack shifted, causing the man to lose his footing. Instead of safely stepping out of the way, he toppled over the side of the bridge and landed on his leg.
Unable to either walk or crawl, authorities say the man lay on the ground in the Mock Roy Creek bed yelling for help for around two and a half hours.
“If this had happened a week earlier when it was raining, he probably would n’thave made it,” said Braden. “The water in that creek can get deep.”
Braden also speculated that due to the severity of the man’s injuries, he likely would have gone into shock if he had been stuck there over night, when temperatures dropped into the 50s.
By the time the injured man had been located and rescued, Vance had already left for the day, unaware that she had saved a man’s life.
On Friday, Chief Braden surprised Vance by showing up at Subway prior to the start of her shift to present her with a Chief of Police Civilian Commendation.
“If not for Heather Vance’s quick and decisive actions to notify law enforcement, the subject’s cries for help mat have gone unnoticed,” Braden read from a prepared statement. “The subject told responding officers that he had just said a prayer for someone to hear his cries for help when he heard the voices of first responders calling out to him to pinpoint his location.
“I want to extend a commendation to Heather Vance who without hesitation took immediate action and became a hero to a man who by his own admission had been praying for someone to hear his cries. Our town of Sebree is small, and our resources are limited, but with eyes and ears of the willing public working together, we can make our small town’s resources stretch much further.”
Contact Matt Hughes at firstname.lastname@example.org or 270-667-2069