Johnny Roberson, of Troup, did everything he could to keep himself and 11-year-old Layla Gross above water.
The attempted rescuer was tiring as he waited for help to arrive and pluck the pair from a dark, cold abandoned water well.
“I was afraid because my arms and legs were so tired, but I wanted her to know everything was going to be OK,” he said. “I was dead tired by the time the rope was lowered.”
On Tuesday, Smith County recognized Roberson for his action that saved Layla’s life and put his own in jeopardy.
At a Saturday afternoon fish fry at a friend’s home, Layla followed her brother atop a well capped by concrete. When she jumped atop it a second time, the concrete gave way. The following splash of concrete and the teen drew partygoers’ attention.
“It was loud. Something hitting water at a bottom of a well makes a different sound than just a splash,” said the girl’s mother, Sierra Franklin. “I knew what happened.”
Arriving seconds after the splash, Roberson said he first thought the water was shallow enough for the girl to stand but quickly realized she was standing on the concrete that continued to sink below her. He began looking for anything to lower himself the 20 to 25 feet to the water.
A long extension cord was the only thing available, so Roberson tied it around a nearby chain-link fence and twice around himself. He then began shimmying down the well walls.
Roberson had doubts the cord would hold their combined weight going up, and he was right. Not long into their journey upward, the cord broke, sending the two back into the water.
A water hose was lowered to help the two stay afloat. Roberson held on for what seemed like an eternity. Troup Fire Department arrived with ropes to pull the two to safety.
Layla emerged unscathed. Now, she simply looks forward to dancing and art class in school.
Roberson still wears a few nicks from the ordeal. He hasn’t slept well since the incident.
Ms. Franklin’s eyes still wear worry and fear for her child weeks after the accident.
“When the cord broke and they fell back into the water, I thought I was going to lose my baby,” she said. “I’m so very grateful for (Roberson), that he was there and did what he did.”
Roberson said rural residents should be aware of old water wells that litter the countryside. They’re potential hazards for children at play, pets and residents who just don’t know where they are.
Those in attendance for budget discussions and day-to-day agenda items stood in recognition of Roberson’s act after Fire Marshal Jay Brooks recounted the harrowing tale. Roberson received a certificate recognizing his heroism.
“I’ve never been in this position,” he said. “I’m glad she’s alive and I’m glad I’m alive.”