This article was published in the Lenoir News-Topic.
William Kent and Coleman Clark were tossing a football on Sunset Beach on Wednesday when they heard screams.
At first Kent and Clark – both from Lenoir and rising juniors and football players at Hibriten High School – thought it was just someone in the ocean horsing around.
Then Kent looked over and made eye contact with the man who was screaming.
He realized immediately that the man was in trouble, caught in a dangerous rip current that eventually claimed three lives Wednesday in Brunswick County in far southeastern North Carolina – two on Sunset Beach and one on Ocean Isle Beach.
Clark saw his friend dash into the water and followed him. Together with two other friends who had been playing football with them, they were able to pull the man out of the water and get him to shore.
Then the man said, “There’s two more.”
The boys went back and pulled another swimmer from the water, this time an older woman. They started on their way back to find the third person when they heard Kent’s mother screaming for them to come back.
The woman they had just brought ashore was unconscious, and Kent is CPR-certified.
As Kent performed CPR on the woman, he heard a commotion coming from the water as two other beachgoers pulled a man onto shore. The man was Mitchell McLean of Wilkesboro, the chief District Court judge of the 23rd Judicial District, which covers Ashe and Wilkes counties.
Kent, along with a nurse on the scene, performed CPR on McLean. They got a pulse, and Kent said he was sure McLean would be all right, but McLean died that night at Novant Health Brunswick Medical Center.
Kent said it was partly his training as a Boy Scout that enabled him to react the way he did. He had earned merit badges in lifesaving and emergency preparedness, he said, and had learned to stay calm and act swiftly in emergency situations.
Clark, on the other hand, was not a Boy Scout – he just did what needed to be done, he said.
Later, Kent and Clark walked down the beach, warning swimmers about the dangerous tides.
As they walked, they saw both people they had helped pull from the water. The first was holding his baby son. The other – the older woman – shook Kent’s hand and hugged him, and told him thank you.
Kent and Clark never learned the names of the people they saved. An article in the Brunswick Beacon newspaper identified three people who were pulled from the water: McLean, Edward Galway III, and Mary Anne Galway. The article left at least one other person unidentified.
Kent said that while it was all happening, it didn’t even cross his mind that he was putting himself in danger – although he easily could have been hurt while trying to pull others out, as McLean was.
“I’m just glad we were able to get two out,” Kent said. “I hate that lives were lost, but we did everything we could to save Mr. McLean.”
And Clark said that, faced with the situation again, he’d make the same decisions.
“I would do it again,” he said. “And I’m just grateful that I had the group of guys I did to help.”