Pastor and wife save drowning man Saturday in Bull Shoals Lake
Usually, Davin and Kasey Friend head from Gainesville to Salem General Baptist Church in Ocie plenty early on the day of the church’s annual fish fry, which this year was held from 5 to 7 p.m. Saturday. But various jobs around the house delayed their departure this time, and they ended up westbound on Highway 160 at the east end of the Theodosia Bridge about 3:30 p.m. or so on that Oct. 6 afternoon – just as Michael Atkins was drowning in the lake below the bridge.
“We saw this boat, drifting loose, and it had its bumpers out,” Davin said Monday. “Kasey mentioned it, and I looked and saw a Jeep backed into the water. I said, ‘Somebody’s lost their boat.’”
Then they spotted someone “out there in the water,” Davin said. “I could see he had a blue shirt on, and I thought it was a life jacket. We kinda slowed down, and all of a sudden, my wife said, ‘Davin, he just went under!’ We did a U-turn and went back.”
The Friends, who had their youngest son, Hudsyn, with them, quickly drove down to the public boat dock on the east side of Bull Shoals Lake opposite the Theodosia campground. They hurried to the water’s edge, and Davin started to yell to the man in the water to ask if he needed help.
“But before I could get that out, he said, ‘Help me! I’m drowning,’” Davin said.
Kasey immediately plunged into the water, fully dressed, shoes on, heading for the drowning man.
“But I went in the water and passed her and told her to go back,” Davin said.
It took Davin a little longer to hit the water because he paused a few seconds to take off his boots and strip down to his underwear. “I knew if I went in with my boots and all my clothes on, I wasn’t going to be able to help anyone,” he said.
‘He ... saved my life’
Michael, the man in the water, had spent the day on Bull Shoals Lake by himself, fishing. “In the middle of the afternoon, I decided to come on in, and I tied up the boat at the courtesy dock – put a loop around a post and took off to get my Jeep and trailer. But when I came back, the boat was floating away,” Michael said. “I hurried to back the trailer into the water, threw my cell phone in the Jeep and jumped in the water.”
The wind was blowing, and the boat was floating faster than Michael could swim. “Halfway to the boat, I ran out of energy. I couldn’t move my arms no more,” he said. “When I was 15, I used to swim to the pier and back out in California. But now I’m 66 with medical problems. I couldn’t move my arms enough to swim. I was trying to paddle my feet and keep my nose and mouth out of the water, but it was tough. When I could, I’d put my arm up and try to yell. There were plenty of trucks and trailers in the parking lot, but everyone was out fishing. Then this young man and his wife, they were going to a fish fry, and right before they got to the bridge, they noticed me in the water with my arm up. They flipped a U-ie, and he swam out there and saved my life.”
“I’m going to say he was about 50 yards out,” Davin said. “By the time I got to him, the boat had floated plumb to the other side of the cove there beside the courtesy dock. When I got beside him, I got under his arm, and we swarm across that cove to his boat. It doesn’t look it, but I’d say that cove is about 100 yards wide. When I realized I was getting tired, I said, ‘I’m going to let go and push you,’ and that’s how we made it to the boat.”
Once they reached the boat, Michael lowered the motor, and the two wet, exhausted men climbed in.
Davin, pastor of the church at Salem, said, “The first thing I asked him when we both got into the boat was, ‘Are you a believer? Because we do this every year at my church, and this was divine timing today. The Lord was watching over you, because normally I would have been at the church already.’”
Michael said yes, he was believer. He and his wife, Margaret, have attended Doyle Turner’s church in Theodosia, he said.
Watching his parents rush to save the drowning man, 5-year-old Hudsyn Friend unbuckled himself from his carseat and ran down to the dock just as his mom swam back to it. “He was there with his hand out and said, ‘Mom, I’ll help you!’ Then Hudsyn ran back to the car to get the cell phone.
“He was going to call his grandpa for help – that’s Dana Crisp,” Davin said with a chuckle. “Kasey yelled to him, ‘No, call 911!’”
But by then the two men had returned to the dock in the boat, and Michael said, “No, don’t call 911. I’m all right.” He told the family later that he is a first responder with the Theodosia Area Volunteer Fire Department. He didn’t want his fellow first responders to arrive and see who they were rescuing.
“But they found out anyway,” Michael said Monday. “We went out on a call yesterday, and they asked me, ‘Were you that drowning victim at the boat ramp?’”
After the rescue, the Friends continued on to the fish fry at the church. Kasey relayed the story to their church friends, explaining why she was soaking wet.
Moving here permanently
With the runaway boat loaded onto the trailer, Michael drove to the vacation home in Theodosia that he and his wife bought about a year and a half ago. They had grown weary of the “fast lifestyle and high prices” in California, he said, and Margaret had started looking for “places we could afford to buy for a vacation home close by a lake.” Her internet search brought the couple to Theodosia and Realtor Don Smiley at the Sierra Ozarks real estate corporation.
Now retired from a career that included managing a cemetery, driving a milk truck and working on a farm, Michael said he and Margaret like it here so much, they’ve decided to return to California, put their house up for sale and become full-time Theodosia residents. “The people are great. We’ve really enjoyed it here,” he said. “We should have moved here a long time ago.”
Michael called the Times Monday to share the story of how Davin and Kasey Friend, in what Davin calls the Lord’s ‘divine timing,’ saved his life. It’s a story that could have had a tragic ending. Instead, Michael got to live another day – and Pastor Davin got to live out the old-time gospel hymn “Rescue the Perishing.”