Bluffton police Officer Brady Lee was just around the corner when he got the call that two vehicles had wrecked at the intersection of Buckwalter Parkway and Shell Hall Drive.
When Lee pulled up 20 seconds later, he saw a bent sign and a crowd gathering near a drainage pond. The driver of a Chevrolet pickup truck, a 56-year-old Bluffton man, had rear-ended a Honda Accord and run off the road, onlookers said. The man was still inside.
Lee waded into the brisk November water. His only thought was getting the driver out.
About six months later, he was presented the police department's Life-Saving Award and Officer of the Year Award for the rescue.
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"I was just in the right place at the right time," Lee said, a few weeks after receiving the honors at a June 6 ceremony. "In my opinion, it's the greatest job in the world."
The driver, Bruce Marshall, said he suffered a seizure before the crash and can't remember getting up that day, let alone the events of the accident or his rescue. Marshall said he learned what happened hours later, after waking up in a bed at Coastal Carolina Hospital.
He was able to meet Lee a few days later.
"I think the man's a hero," Marshall said. "From what I understand, he saved my life."
Lee said he didn't have any specialized training for water rescues. He also shed his duty belt and holstered gun before jumping into the cold pond, leaving them with another officer.
He and Joel Martin, an off-duty firefighter with the Bluffton Township Fire District, were standing in neck-deep water when they got to the truck and discovered the man inside was unconscious. Martin was also honored for the rescue, receiving the district's Medal of Merit at an annual Christmas party, according to spokesman Randy Hunter.
Marshall awakened when Lee grabbed him, but he quickly lost consciousness again, the officer said.
"It was just kind of instinct," Lee said. "I knew I had to do something. I couldn't just stand there and let the guy sit in the water."
Lee and the firefighter pulled Marshall out of the truck and onto land, where Beaufort County EMS was waiting to take him to the hospital.
The driver of the Honda was not injured.
Lee found another way to bounce back from the 38-degree day.
He recently was submerged in icy waters again, this time by choice as part of the Cold Water Challenge, in which participants either brave an ice bath or donate $100 to charity.
After the November rescue, the challenge wasn't so hard, Lee said.
"It was nothing like that," he said. "It was cold, but it was just a little bit of water in a bathtub."
Follow reporter Rebecca Lurye at twitter.com/IPBG_Rebecca.
- Hilton Head security officer, deputy honored for service, March 8, 2014