Neighbors save man trapped under tractor

Published 12:00 am Saturday, May 1, 2010

NATCHEZ — An accident left a 66-year-old man stuck under his tractor partially submerged in water for hours Wednesday evening, but thanks to a group of concerned neighbors and sheriff’s deputies, he lives to ride another day.

Around 3 p.m., Joe Merrick got off of his tractor to spray for weeds in his pond off U.S. 61 North. Only, he forgot to put the tractor’s gear in park, he said.

“I attempted to get on the tractor to stop it from rolling into the pond,” Merrick said. “When I got on that step, I think I slipped, and I fell into the water.

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“When I fell it rolled up on my leg and trapped me under there.”

Merrick said at first he attempted to resolve the issue himself but only ended up making it worse.

“It was pretty obvious I was not going to get that leg out,” he said. “So I focused more attention on yelling and getting somebody to respond.”

Around 9 p.m., Regina Starks and her friends heard his cries for help, which were coming from a mile away. After discerning that it was not a prank, she said they acted.

“We loaded up in three vehicles and everyone went up and down the highways and into the woods,” Starks said. “We were screaming to get his attention.”

Unfortunately, Starks said he would quiet down every 15 minutes for a break, so they had trouble pinpointing his location. They decided they needed help and called in the Adams and Jefferson county sheriff’s offices.

At approximately 10:30 p.m. Adams County deputies Robby Moore and James Blackwell arrived at Starks’ location. Moore said he could hear a faint call for help.

Moore and Blackwell searched the area for a wreck, but couldn’t find one. They went down several highways, along the trace, and finally ended up at Bags and Beyond on U.S. 61 North listening and calling.

“He started answering me then,” Moore said. “We had finally found a spot where he could hear us.”

At that point, the deputies got out of the car and walked toward the voice, and saw a tractor on top of a man and called in backup.

“I thought that they were the most beautiful human beings I had ever seen,” Merrick said. “It was delightful, when I saw their flashlights in the field, I knew then that everything was going to be all right.”

By the time the deputies found Merrick it was approaching midnight, and he wasn’t out of the water yet.

“After he told me he had been there since 3, I knew I had to go into the water with him,” Moore said. “The water was a lot colder than I expected it to be — I don’t know how he lasted 9 hours.”

Merrick, who had been holding his head above water since the fall, agreed that Moore had gotten there in the knick of time.

“I had gotten to a point where my arms were violently shaking,” Merrick said. “When the officer came out, got behind and embraced me — I think I was about to collapse.”

Once the wrecker team arrived and pulled the tractor out, Merrick was freed. He is now recovering at University Medical Center in Jackson.

“I’m doing OK,” Merrick said. “I still have some problems with my left leg, which was trapped under that tractor tire.”

Merrick said he was seeing small but significant changes to his condition, however.

“I can move my toes,” he said. “I couldn’t (Thursday).”

Sheriff Chuck Mayfield said he was proud of Moore and Blackwell for not calling the search off as a prank when they thought it might be someone messing with them.

“I got a feeling where I thought it was something,” Moore said. “It is kind of like when you go to a crime scene, the hair on back of your neck stands up, and you just know something ain’t right.”

Merrick said Moore had been the answer to his 9-hour prayer, but the deputy said he isn’t a hero — he is just a man who was doing his job.

“I did what I had to do,” Moore said. “But it feels good to help someone.”

Moore said he went to see Merrick in the hospital Thursday, and he was glad to see him recovering.

As for Merrick, he said if this ever happens again he is going to let the tractor go into the pond.