CHESTER — On the morning of Sept. 21, after numerous hours of torrential rains covered the area, flooding arose in many local communities, particularly in the local Kent Island Safeway parking lot. By 10 a.m., water covering the store’s parking lot began to overwhelm the drainage pond, which is located between the store and Chick-fil-A along Route 50. Safeway employee Charles Davis, in his 60’s, who has been employed at the store for four years, walked with his cane to his car, preparing to leave. Store Front Manager Brittany Grottendick followed Davis to his car. “He appeared to be having difficulty walking in the very wet parking lot,” she noted. Grottendick then watched as Davis drove away from the store front in the direction of Chick-fil-A.
The water he was driving through was already deep, and became deeper the further he drove. Suddenly, the car appeared to be floating in the water, and was pulled into the drainage pond. Witnessing this, Grottendick immediately went inside the store yelling for store employees to come quickly outside to help Davis. Using her cell phone, she also dialed 911 to report the emergency.
Store employees Paul Lafferty, Joe Mansfield and Kelsie Goettling ran across the parking lot, literally going into the flood waters to reach Davis who was now trapped inside his car. The flood waters had short circuited the electrical system of the car, leaving the doors and windows locked from outside. Lafferty said, “The car became totally submerged in the pond.”
Unidentified Safeway customers also joined in the rescue, including a uniformed member of the Maryland National Guard. Lafferty and Mansfield were swimming in the flooded pond water to get to the car. Mansfield said, “A woman provided us with a hammer which we used to breakout the car’s sunroof. If he hadn’t had a sunroof on the car, I’m certain he would have drowned.”
Once they removed the sunroof, they used scissors, provided by another by-stander provided to cut the seatbelt off Davis. He was then able to partially stand-up with his head out of the sunroof window to keep his head above water.
While all this took place, first-responders from the Kent Island Volunteer Fire Department arrived. Led by KIVFD Chief Buddy Thomas, the fire department members broke the rear window out of Davis’ car to allow the water to drain out, and for one firefighter to climb through the window to open a car door manually, which allowed another space for water to be released. The firefighters then placed a tow-line to Davis’ car, using the fire truck to pull his car out of the pond with Davis still inside.
Chief Thomas said, “I was neck deep in the water while we were attempting to break the rear windshield and get the water out of the car. The water was very cold, and I’m sure Mr. Davis was probably suffering from exposure to that cold water, plus the shock of what had happened to him before we got him out.” Davis was taken to the hospital, and as of Oct. 1, he was still recovering and receiving care.
Safeway Manager Andranie Jinarain said, “Charles has been a dedicated employee, working out at our gasoline pump area building most of the time. The employees who responded did so without hesitation, and went above and beyond. I think it’s a good example of the caring we have among our employees, like being a family here at the store.” She praised those who had to swim in their work clothes to save their colleague.
A previous version of this story Sept. 21 did not include the Safeway’s employees contribution to the rescue effort.