Teens rescued from flood

Published 12:31 am Tuesday, April 22, 2008

VIDALIA— A teenage prank that could have ended in deadly tragedy Monday night turned three everyday men into heroes instead.

Two teens — a 16-year-old and 17-year-old Michael Cupstid — reportedly chose to run into the record-high waters of the Mississippi River at the Vidalia Riverfront at approximately 6:30 p.m.

The current caught them, and they were pushed further from shore, witnesses on the scene said.

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Vidalia Police Chief Billy Hammers was at the Riverpark Medical Center on the riverfront when the incident occurred.

“I looked and saw a head bobbing,” he said.

Hammers was one of a large crowd inside and outside the medical center who saw the young men in the water. Word spread quickly and three men took charge, eventually bringing the teens to safety.

Lee Miley, a retired state trooper from Mississippi, Vidalia businessman Brent Adkison and Dr. Bernard Boka, a doctor at Riverpark saved the teens’ lives, Hammers said.

Boka was working in the clinic when word traveled to him that someone was drowning in the river.

“Someone came into the building and said a child had fallen into the river,” Boka said. “I saw a teenager out there in the water and I thought he was holding a baby.”

Boka went to the water’s edge and went in after the teen.

Riverpark front desk worker Kristy Murray stood by watching the rescue.

“Dr. Boka goes throwing his stethoscope off, throwing his shoes off, getting everything off,” she said. “It scared everybody to death.”

Boka was joined by the two other men, one of which happened to grab a life preserver on shore.

“I swam about 15 or 20 feet out,” Boka said. “I had a hose that another man had managed to grab hold of, and I just dug my heels in and pulled.”

The trio was able to pull one of the teens back to land, just in front of the Vidalia Conference and Convention Center.

The other teen swam back on his own, Boka said.

Boka and EMTs who had been called to the scene examined both teens and saw no major cause for concern, Boka said.

“They were cold and kind of shaken up, but OK,” Boka said.

And as for Boka, he’s OK too.

“(The river) is cold. And it’s definitely muddy,” Boka said. “But I had a change of scrubs.”

He left his muddy clothes in the medical center changing room and 20 minutes later was back to his day-job as an after-hours clinic doctor — seeing patients and saving lives the old fashioned way.

“This was a little bit different than normal,” he said.

As a result of Monday night’s incident, the Vidalia Riverfront is now closed to the public, Hammers said. The sidewalk will be blocked off with police tape, and anyone found crossing it will be subject to arrest, Hammers said.

“It’s dangerous, and we don’t want anyone to get hurt,” he said. “I know it’s interesting and exciting and people have been taking pictures left and right, but we just can’t take a risk.”

The medical center, convention center and hotel will remain open, and traffic will be allowed on the street.

The river began its crest Monday. It sits at 56.9 now, the second highest level on record.