Saturday afternoon around 4:30pm, Columbus Police and Rescue crews rushed to the Luxapalila Creek after E-911 received a call about a man clinging to a boat floating down the river. A 14-ft aluminum boat had flipped in the Creek behind the Lowndes County Jail.
Louis Richardson, of 6th Ave. N. in Columbus, and Dr. Paul Veal, also of Columbus, were thrown from the boat into the frigid waters. Richardson is an Associate Minster of Southside Missionary Baptist Church, and Dr. Veal is a noted Chiropractor with a practice on Gardner Blvd. in Columbus. Dr. Veal was able to get out of the main current and swim to shore. Richardson grabbed on to the boat immediately to stay afloat.
Richardson said he and Dr.Veal had been fishing together for over 20 years, and never had an accident. Richardson said Veal had tried to yell “Watch out!! Watch out!” as the boat spun backwards toward the cement piling, but as he turned around-it was too late. The boat took on water after striking the jagged cement piling, and caught the edge of the central current, and fell on its’ side.
“I got thrown right out-just like that. We both had lifejackets on, but they didn’t do us a bit of good- still sank right to the bottom.” Richardson told The Packet.
Richardson says Veal tried to get back out to him to help him, but the strong current wouldn’t allow it. Veal had to try and climb up the slick bank multiple times before finding a good spot to crawl up. The boat stayed on its’ side for nearly 30 minutes before it fully capsized, but Richardson was able to hang on.
As the boat passed under a bridge, a woman happened to see Richardson clinging to the boat, and immediately called 911. At that point Richardson had been in the water for nearly 20 minutes.
“Thank God for the young lady on the bridge, if she hadn’t called –I don’t know where we’d be. I knew then, all I’d have to do was stay with the boat. Like Paul said in the Bible: Stay with the ship.” Richardson remarked.
The Packet was able to track down the good Samaratin, identified as Virgie Benson of Columbus, and she said she was headed to the park when she happened to notice Richardson clinging to the vessel as it passed under the bridge on Nashville Ferry Rd. just in the S-curve. Benson said she never looks at the water when she goes over bridges because she is deathly afraid of water.
“I don’t know what it was, I just happened to look- I’m actually very scared of water… I was able to talk to him for a minute, the 911 operator told me to ask him if he was OK, and if he had a lifejacket—he said he had a life vest, and that he was fine, except really, really cold” Benson remarked.
Benson said Richardson couldn’t get out of the current, and that she stayed on the phone with 911 until she heard he was alright.
“I broke down when I heard he was saved. It was a scary situation, I was just so worried” said Benson.
Meanwhile, back at their home on 6th Ave, Richardson’s wife Willie Mae heard the commotion over her police scanner. She was preparing to head to a choral concert in Aberdeen (She is with The Mississippi Gospel Aires) when she heard a boat had flipped in the Lux.
“I called right away, but he didn’t answer. I still thought that there’s no way it was them. They’ve been fishing forever.” Mrs. Richardson said.
She called her son John to go drive down and look out for Dr. Veal’s truck, but he could not find it down at Lux Park. Mrs. Richardson said she stayed on the phone until John saw what he described as a skinny man clinging to an overturned boat near the Greenhill Bridge overpass.
“That’s my daddy, momma it’s daddy in the river!!!” Richardson said she heard her son scream.
Columbus Police Sgt. John Duke and Officers Rebecca Lomax, Thomas Culpepper and Tommy Watkins rushed to help find Richardson. Columbus Fire Engine #30 arrived at the entrance to the Luxapalila Park, and the assembled group sprinted down the rocky road over one mile to where Richardson was found, still clinging to the boat as it was temporarily snagged near the West river bank.
Columbus Fire Captain Todd Graham, and Officers Wes Mims and Richard McBride assessed the situation, and staged for a water rescue. Mims and McBride tied one end of rope to a sturdy tree on the East bank of the river, and the other around Graham’s waist. Graham waded into the river and through the swift current towards Richardson.
“All the training we’ve had kicked in. All of us are dive certified, so we were prepared for something like this.” Graham said.
Only minutes before, Columbus Police Sgt. Ross Richardson rushed to the boat dock at the park and asked for some help from two men about to enter the river on their boat. Brian Lindsay and Roy Gilmore gladly offered to help. Sgt. Richardson began to make his way upstream along with Brian Lindsay, but the vessel was having intermittent motor trouble, and had stalled several times- stalling every 100 ft or so. Time was becoming more of a factor, as Louis Richardson was nearing one full hour in the creek.
“I never really got scared, all I could keep thinking was I have to hold onto this boat. My legs and feet were so numb, it was rough” recalled Louis Richardson.
Richardson said he had been fishing all his life, and had never encountered a situation when a boat just stayed in the middle of the river.
“It just hung out midstream in that big current, never did go to the side till just at the end.” He said.
Columbus Police Reserve Lt. James Bush was just returning to the boat launch in his 16 ft. Bass boat when Roy Gilmore told him what was happening downstream. Bush rushed to where the first boat was having trouble, picked up Sgt. Richardson mid-stream, and continued towards the capsized boat. Bush said he was just taking his boat on a little pleasure cruise to make sure everything was in working order.
“I’m glad I just happened to be there, it was pretty lucky, I guess” said Bush.
Sgt. Richardson said soon after he got into Bush’s boat, Sgt. Duke radioed in that they had managed to pull Louis Richardson out of the water, and that he was shaking vigorously and suffering from apparent hypothermia.
“When they pulled me out, I couldn’t feel a thing. I was so grateful though. That was something else those men did” said Richardson.
Sgt. Richardson and Reserve Lt. Bush raced back to the boat slip, with Louis Richardson wrapped in life vests lying on the boat floor to protect him form the wind. As the boat pulled up to the ramp, two waiting ambulance crews and Columbus Firemen wrapped Richardson in a large red thermal blanket, and placed him on a stretcher. Richardson’s son held his hand from the boat to the ambulance. Richardson says he remembered seeing his son, but not the caring touch.
“My son kept saying he held my hand, but I didn’t feel a thing. I was shaking so bad.” Richardson said.
Louis Richardson was transported via ambulance to BMH-GT, and was reported to have an internal temperature of 88 degrees. He was released a few hours afterwards with no permanent damage. He said he was able to go out to eat and go to Sunday church after the ordeal. Richardson said he ran into an old friend while washing his hands before dinner and caused quite a stir:
“He nearly fell down on the ground. Looked just like he’d seen a ghost! He told me that he heard I drowned on the river today. I told him I almost did just that- but not quite.” Richardson said with a smile.
Richardson said he lost all but one fishing pole and one bag in the accident, and that his friend Dr. Veal lost all of his fishing tackle, along with his jacket and ID. Richardson had high praise for all the men and women who played a part in the rescue.
Richardson said: “I got to stand up and testify in church Sunday night and testify, and that was something else, those men and women did a marvelous job. I owe them my life.”