After Busting Scores of South Carolinians, Helicopter Lawmen Get To Save a Life
Col. Neil Baxley, the commander of the Beaufort County Sheriff’s Emergency Management Division, has busted scores of South Carolinians during his 39 years at the agency.
He’s gone on missions searching for missing people. He’s helped find stolen loot and fished drowned people out of the water.
But he never got many chances to save a life, much less to meet the survivors later.
That changed on Friday, Aug. 5, when he was reunited with 81-year-old Raymond Teague.
Teague’s neighbors in Sun City, a senior citizen community with more than 16,000 residents, reported him missing on June 18.
Teague had bounded into the woods behind his home hours earlier looking for his dog, Beauregard, and never came back. Baxley told Coffee or Die Magazine the man had found his pooch in a pond, bent over to fetch it, and then fell into the water.
He spent the next 45 minutes struggling to climb out of the muck as the summer heat rose into the 90s.
Then, as Baxley put it, he made it “about 10 steps and collapsed.”
Baxley and his tactical flight officer, Cpl. Jeremy Dickman, were finishing up a late afternoon patrol in their OH-58A Kiowa helicopter over Daufuskie Island when they got the dispatch. Eight minutes later, they were above Sun City.
“We got to the guy’s house. We set up a circular pattern over his house, and about the fifth orbit expanding out, Jeremy is looking around and says ‘I got him! I got him!’” Baxley recalled.
Dickman reported that Teague appeared to have collapsed in an area cleared for power lines, about 900 feet from his house. The electrical lines prevented Baxley from landing, but he was able to use his helicopter to pinpoint to Bluffton Police Sgt. Craig Karafa where Teague had fallen.
Karafa had been off duty, but he responded to the emergency call and was the first person to reach Teague.
After assessing the man’s medical condition, Karafa called Jasper County Emergency Medical Services.
All the crew had to do was look for Baxley’s helicopter, which continued to hover over the spot.
“We were high-fiving in the helicopter because we had saved the life,” Baxley said. “That’s a tremendous moment.”
Teague spent three days in the hospital but recovered. Back in Sun City, the community’s security chief, Joe Shedding, thought it would be a good idea for Teague to meet his rescuers.
“And it just took off from there,” Beaufort County Sheriff’s spokesperson Maj. Angela Viens said.
On Friday, Baxley and Dickman landed their helicopter at the University of South Carolina Beaufort, Bluffton campus, to meet Teague, who came to campus with his wife and Beauregard.
“He’s 81 years old, and he got emotional” as he thanked the men “for doing our jobs,” Baxley told Coffee or Die, but the colonel played down their efforts, saying he and Dickman “had been in the right place to get it done.”
“We’ve caught bad guys with the helicopter. We’ve recovered stolen cars with the helicopter. We’ve recovered drowning victims with the helicopter. But this was our first life save,” he said. “That’s fantastic. That’s why we do this. There’s no better feeling than that, when you’ve done what you’ve been trained to do. And Mr. Teague is getting to enjoy more life with his wife and son. It doesn’t get any better than that.”