BROWNWOOD – October 16, 2013 – Nine Howard Payne University students and a faculty member are being hailed as heroes after their quick actions prevented a potential tragedy. Dr. Rick Beelby, associate professor of exercise and sport science, and members of his basic canoeing class were recognized last week by the Board of Directors of the Brown County Water Improvement District for rescuing a would-be drowning victim at Lake Brownwood.
After several weeks of classroom instruction, Dr. Beelby and his students arrived at the lake on the evening of September 17 for the first time as a group. Thunderstorms earlier in the day, however, had threatened to disrupt plans to hold class on the water.
“The lake is one of the last places you want to be in the event of lightning, of course,” Dr. Beelby said. “But conditions improved and I made the decision late in the day to go ahead with the class.”
The class met near the shore as the clouds continued to dissipate. Instructing them to be on the lookout for lightning, Dr. Beelby moved his students into a remote area with deeper water. The group was working on capsize drills when several students noticed a young woman in the distance.
“She was about 60 meters away from us in deep water, screaming and flailing her arms,” Dr. Beelby said. “We rushed over to help.”
One student gave the teenage girl his personal flotation device, and Dr. Beelby kept her secured to the canoe as other students paddled them safely to shore. As Dr. Beelby tended to the girl, several students paddled to the other shore to retrieve their cell phones and call 911. The group then provided emotional support to the girl while waiting for the police to arrive.
Lt. Scotty Burke of the Lake Patrol was one of the first to arrive on the scene. Weeks later, he stood in the meeting room of the Brown County Water Improvement District Board of Directors, recognizing the members of the HPU group for their “selfless actions.”
Students honored for preventing this tragedy included Courtney Beene, a senior from Oak Leaf; Ethan Ferrel, a junior from Childress; Dacia Griffin, a junior from Early; Mallory Orms, a senior from Springtown; Colin Pritchard, a sophomore from Crawford; Jacob Sadler, a sophomore from Liberty Hill; Courtney Seybert, a sophomore from Bangs; Kristian Simpson, a sophomore from Burnet; and Sarah Wright, a freshman from Beaumont.
Dr. Beelby attributes the young woman’s rescue to promptings from the Holy Spirit.
“The weather was poor and everything that could go wrong that day had gone wrong,” he said. “Any other time, I would have cancelled class. But the Holy Spirit directed our paths. The Lord must have some wonderful plan for this young girl.”
Photo cutline: Nine HPU students and a faculty member were recognized by Lt. Scotty Burke of the Lake Patrol for their actions in preventing a tragedy. From left: Lt. Burke, Courtney Seybert, Dacia Griffin, Sarah Wright, Courtney Beene, Ethan Ferrel, Kristian Simpson, Jacob Sadler and Dr. Rick Beelby. Not pictured are Mallory Orms and Colin Pritchard.