They never hesitated.
Not when water on flooded highways was about waist-deep, not when torrential rain made conditions worse.
Three Maryland Department of Transportation State Highway Administration (MDOT SHA) workers from the Leonardtown Maintenance Shop rescued two people on the morning of August 4 who tried to drive across flooded highways caused by Tropical Storm Isaias.
Mike Stonestreet, a heavy equipment operator, pulled a man from the water after he fell headfirst into the deluge when he got of his car near the intersection of MD routes 5 and 236. Stonestreet was in a dump truck on higher ground monitoring the closed roadway when he spotted the man.
David Latimer, assistant resident maintenance engineer, and Adam Rippeon, a heavy equipment operator, positioned a rubber tire front-end loader next to a woman’s car trapped on MD 234. Latimer then stood on the car’s hood in order to pull the woman out and up to Rippeon, who was in the loader.
“What our employees did was heroic,” said Transportation Secretary Gregory Slater. “I’m very proud of them – and proud of all the work MDOT SHA does, not only during storms but every day. When you think about public service, when you think about the men and women of MDOT, think about these members of our team. They are what we strive for every day in building a team and servicing the citizens of Maryland.”
Stonestreet, Latimer and Rippeon transported the man and woman to safety, made sure they were OK, got some thank-you’s and returned to their regular storm duties.
“According to my favorite and iconic Marvel comic book writer Stan Lee, a person who helps others simply because it should or must be done, and because it is the right thing to do, is indeed without a doubt, a real superhero,” MDOT SHA Administrator Tim Smith said. “During Tropical Storm Isaias, we were able to witness our very own MDOT SHA employees helping others because it must be done and it was the right thing to do in an extraordinary situation. Not all superheroes wear capes.”
Both rescues happened at about 8:30 a.m. as the storm dumped more rain faster in St. Mary’s County than the workers ever remember. One person in the area reported more than 9 inches of rain to the National Weather Service, the agency said.
The rescues happened so fast the MDOT SHA workers didn’t stop to get any personal details about the people they saved. The workers were just glad to have helped and didn’t disparage the two drivers for attempting to cross the flooded roads.
“Don’t be embarrassed,” Latimer told the woman. “It happens. People make bad decisions sometimes.”
MDOT SHA and other MDOT agencies always encourage motorists to be vigilant for potentially hazardous driving conditions during storms, avoid low-laying areas because of potential flooding and remember this rule if they come across standing water: “Turn Around, Don’t Drown.”
Stonestreet, who has worked at MDOT SHA for 25 years, remembers saying to himself, “Oh, Lordy” when he saw the man’s car get stuck in the water. The man got out of the car and tried to walk toward Stonestreet, who, at that point was already out of his truck, but faceplanted in the rising water.
“I grabbed hold of him and locked arms, ‘cause he had trouble walking,” Stonestreet said. “I got him out of the water and walked him up on the high land. … He told me thank you and everything and that he was glad I was sitting there and that’s the last I seen him.”
The rescue on MD 234 unfolded in a similar way.
Rippeon, who has been with MDOT SHA almost 19 years, was using the front-end loader to push trees out of the way so the highway bridge wouldn’t totally wash out. As soon as he did, several cars tried to drive through the water. The woman’s car didn’t make it.
“I noticed the water getting high, so I called Dave and told him we’ve got to get her out of there,” Rippeon said. “I’m afraid she’s going to get washed over the bridge.”
Latimer, who has been with MDOT SHA 10½ years, said he and Rippeon began formulating a game plan for the rescue immediately and were ready the moment the loader pulled beside the woman’s car.
“That’s just another person who gets to go home and see their kids and husband and live the life,” Latimer said.
Philip Burch, resident maintenance engineer of MDOT SHA’s Leonardtown shop, was gratified by the actions of his workers.
“I’ve always been proud of this shop, but really, truly all SHA,” he said. “Anytime there’s any emergency, whether it be snow or hurricane, (crashes), trees down – all the SHA guys I’ve ever worked with or been around hit a whole nother mode, where they just instinctively do the right thing, quickly, safely.”
Burch said it’s more than just a job to the people at MDOT SHA. “And at the end of the day,’ he said, ‘they go home knowing the difference they’ve made.”
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