Alabama deputy hailed a hero after rescuing teen from freezing water

(WIAT Photo)

AYETTE COUNTY, Ala. (WIAT) — Fayette County Sheriff’s Deputy Kevin Johnson is being hailed as a hero for entering the water in a dramatic rescue effort of 18-year-old Peyton Cupit.

“It’s the scariest moment of my life. You don’t know what it’s like unless you’ve experienced it…like that moment you know you’re going to die,” Cupit said.

18-year-old Peyton Cupit says says she set out to cross the spillway on Bays Lake Road around 6:00 pm Monday evening. She was going to meet up with a friend who lives on the other side of the spillway to go to a basketball game. It’s a shortcut she’s used many times before, but she had no idea how high the water could get. In the dark she couldn’t see how much danger she was driving into.

“As soon as I went through it like my car just started sliding. And I pulled my emergency brake and I pressed on my brakes as hard as I could and it just kept going,” said Cupit.

Her Hyundai Sonata went over the edge of the spillway, smacked into boulders, and got stuck on a log in the middle of Clear Creek. She says the water was rushing over the hood.

“As soon as I hit those rocks I knew I had to get out of this car or I’m either going to drown in here or I’m going to die. It’s going to flip over. So I just got out of the car as quick as I could and without a split second I couldn’t even think the current took me. I went through all those rocks and I hit all those limbs and I couldn’t breathe I just thought I was going to drown,” said Cupit. “I just started catching my breath and I just started praying to God to please just give me something to hold on to,” said Cupit.

Her prayers were answered when she was able to wrap her arms around a tree, but it was up to her to hang on until help arrived.

She says that she was in the freezing water for about an hour before she was spotted.

Fayette County Sheriff’s Deputy Kevin Johnson says he and his partner Corporal Roger Morrison were among the first on the scene after a neighboring agency called for backup.

“Once we got there we immediately started taking our gear off because we knew somebody had to go in and get her,” Deputy Johnson said.

Ultimately, with a tow strap tied around his body, Johnson went in to the fast, freezing water and Peyton climbed onto his back. On the bank Sergeant Chad Aldridge and a team of others pulled them to safety. Johnson says at times he didn’t know if he would survive the frigid ordeal and says that Cupit showed an amazing amount of strength and resilience to hang on for as long as she did.

“It was bad. I ended up falling three or four times and had it not been for the guys that were holding the rope that I was tied off with I would have been gone,” said Johnson.

He remembers the water was cold, but he has no idea about the exact temperature.

“I just know I was freezing when I got out, but that wasn’t that’s not what was on my mind whenever I went in. All I saw was someone’s daughter that needed, needed help so that was just what we did.”

“I just want to thank Kevin Johnson and everybody who risked their lives to save mine. And the whole community coming together just to try to save me,” said Cupit.

In all the rescue took nearly an hour as well, according to Johnson.

People are calling him a hero. Johnson says he just got there first.

“I was just the first one that got my equipment off. Now had my partner been a little faster than me, he would have been the one that went in and got her,” said Johnson.

“There was several fire departments, several different police officers from different agencies. EMS was there, neighbors that lived in the area were there. I mean everybody just came together and helped this girl out,” said Johnson.

“I honestly don’t think any of us are heroes. We, we put on our these badges, and these fire uniforms, EMS, all of us you know we put on our uniforms with the intentions of helping people and making this county a better place,” he continued.

Cupit said she was airlifted to DCH hospital where she said she was treated and released.

One day later she was out of the hospital and amazingly, just a little sore. She says the credit goes to a higher power and team of everyday heroes who showed up just in time.

Fayette County Sheriff Rodney Ingle expressed his gratitude on Facebook:

“I would like to express appreciation for the service and bravery of Deputy Kevin Johnson for his outstanding efforts in the rescue of a young lady trapped in flood waters this evening. Also, a big thank you to all other deputies, fire departments, police, and community members that assisted in the search and rescue. Please continue to pray for her and her family.”

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