Late on cold and rainy Saturday night, Emily Lamberth was headed home from church with her grandparents on Rowell Road in Catawba southeast of Rock Hill.
Emily saw, out of the corner of her eye, lights down an embankment near a tiny bridge. She yelled to her grandfather, who saw the lights and turned around.
Howard Mullinax, the grandfather, pulled over and Emily leaped from the car before it really stopped moving. She looked over the edge of the road and saw a truck on its side.
“I could see the SUV down there, flipped over,” Emily said. “I knew if there was a truck, there had to be a person, too.”
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Emily had no idea then that the driver would be charged with driving under the influence and criminal domestic assault, accused of hitting his girlfriend several times before fleeing in her SUV before the crash. All she knew at that time was the truck was on its side and somebody could die if she did not act.
A rising junior at Cherryville High School in Gaston County, N.C., who had been visiting her York County grandparents, Emily leaped down the 25-foot ravine. She jumped so fast in the rain and muck her shoes were left alongside the road. She sank into mud up to her thighs at the bottom of the ravine and was scratched by the thick brush.
Emily hauled herself out of the muck and started saving a stranger.
“The guy kept saying ‘I’m pinned, help me,’ ” Emily said. “He was wedged between the door and the side.”
As a neighbor and her grandmother called 911 for help, Emily held the man’s hand and talked to him. Her grandfather slid down the bank on the other side of the truck.
“Emily was right there with him and I kept yelling, ‘Hey buddy, just hang on!’ ” grandfather Howard Mullinax said.
The two thought mosquitoes were biting them, but it turned out to be bees stinging them after the truck had smashed open a hive in a tree.
Still, Emily and her grandfather did not leave.
“His hand was ice cold,” Emily said of the man in the truck. “His eyes were dilated. But I kept talking to him. I told him to wiggle his toes, make sure he could still move.”
Emily did not move away very far, even as volunteer Rock Hill Rescue members and Lesslie volunteer firefighters showed up. The grandfather and grandmother and Emily all said prayers as the crews started to work under lights set up to show the scene below the road in the mud and brush.
“He needed me,” Emily said of the pinned man. “I told him to keep squeezing my hand. I learned all about him. His name, where he was from.”
The man, Emily said, told her he had been in an argument with his girlfriend.
“If he had a concussion he needed to stay awake and keep talking, so I kept him talking,” Emily said.
She stayed close by even as the man was cut from the vehicle. She asked the man if he was a Christian and prayed with him. She said Jesus could help him.
The site was so steep the emergency responders needed a ladder to get down to the vehicle and a mesh carrying basket, to pull the man out.
Some of the volunteers told Emily how brave she was, how her actions helped save the man. Both Lesslie Fire Chief Larry McConnell and Rock Hill Rescue Chief Joe Shackleford said Emily was courageous. But both experienced emergency responders said it could have been dangerous for her with an overturned vehicle – fuel could have leaked, the truck could have fallen back on her – any number of problems could have happened. Generally, responders want anyone who helps to move away as soon as trained help arrives.
“We never want anyone who is doing a good deed to get hurt themselves,” McConnell said.
But Emily said she just wanted to help somebody she had never met until that incident.
Emily’s family is “very proud” she would risk her own safety to help someone who needed her, despite the risks. A grandmother in Cherryville, Molly Lamberth, said Emily shows “what good people do for others.”
Her grandmother in Catawba, Shirley Mullinax, who watched the rescue unfold, called her granddaughter “heroic.”
“When you raise a child to do the right thing, to help someone when they need it and the child does it, it means the world to all of us,” said Sherry Lamberth, Emily’s mother and a former emergency responder herself.
Howard Mullinax, Emily’s grandfather, was cut with briars and stung but said that he was raised to help and “Emily did what our family does – help when you can. We are very proud of her.”
Police from both the S.C. Highway Patrol and York County Sheriff’s Office responded to the crash site, and deputies responded to a call about domestic violence that happened just down the street. Both involved the trapped driver.
Herbert Schneider, Jr., 43, of 496 Rowells Road, had been driving on College Road, which ends at Rowells Road, when he crashed, said Lance Cpl. Billy Elder of the Highway Patrol. Schneider was charged with DUI, Elder said.
But that is not the only charge Schneider faces – Schneider also was arrested on a charge of criminal domestic violence.
A police report said a deputy noticed the crash site as he was responding to a neighbor’s home on Rowells Road, where Schneider had allegedly broken down a neighbor’s door and his his girlfriend several times before fleeing in her SUV without her consent.
The deputy arrested Schneider after Schneider was treated at Piedmont Medical Center, according to police reports. Schneider denied hitting his girlfriend but admitted he “pushed her around a little,” the police report stated.
Another report shows that Schneider allegedly made harassing phone calls to his girlfriend while at the hospital, before he was arrested about 5 a.m. Sunday.
Schneider was released Monday afternoon from the York County jail under a $2,130 bond on the domestic violence charge, according to jail officials.
At the time of the crash, all Emily knew was a man was trapped and needed her. What mattered is in the dark and in the mud, as bees stung her, a terrified man needed help.
“I just wanted him to live,” she said. “And he did.”