Her name is Lilly Weiss. Little Lilly is 7 months old with a smile that will not cease.
But Wednesday night, she almost wasn’t little Lilly anymore. Lilly was choking. Lilly stopped breathing.
When Kayla Smith was rushing her daughter Lilly to the hospital around 8:30 Wednesday night, she pulled off the road at the intersection of Cherry and Mount Gallant roads in Rock Hill. Lilly “had turned blue,” Smith said. The mother, loud as an air-raid siren, screamed for help.
Maybe it was fate that a crash had happened at the same intersection minutes before.
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City utility workers Desmond Campbell and Daah Ross were in the parking lot of Love’s Plaza. A supervisor who came in off-duty, Graham Boatwright, had shown up to handle the crews’ calls.
Rex Hernandez, a 20-year Air Force veteran who has been a Rock Hill Police Department officer since 2013, had been dispatched to handle the wreck scene.
Then Kayla Smith’s screams changed the night. Immediately the crash did not matter. Lilly Weiss, daughter of Kayla Smith and Adam Weiss, was all that mattered.
“I was there in the parking lot and these guys were there and one ran to get the cop while the other called for help,” Smith said. “She was not just turning blue – she was blue. She had been making noises. I needed help. I just stopped. And there they were.”
Hernandez, a father himself, ran through the intersection and took Lilly from Smith’s quaking arms and turned her face down, to make sure Lilly was not choking on anything lodged in her throat. Then Hernandez started little Lilly’s breathing again.
“The cop just took her and did CPR and saved her,” said Smith. “He saved my baby.”
Firefighters and an ambulance arrived, and Kayla and Lilly were rushed to Piedmont Medical Center.
Fire supervisors told city leaders that the actions of the workers – who each have taken CPR training – likely saved Lilly’s life.
Susan Weiss, Lilly’s grandmother, said the workers and Hernandez are “heroes.” She even contacted Rock Hill officials to make sure the people involved who had done such a great deed were recognized.
Susan Weiss said she wants people to know that weeks and months of news from around the country about police officers’ alleged use of force – and worse – is not what her family received at a time when they needed help the most.
“Officer Hernandez saved Lilly’s life,” Susan Weiss said. “He saved her – period. We would have lost her without him. In these last few weeks, with officers under the microscope, so many of them have gotten a bad rap. Well, Rock Hill has a great one who saved a baby. Her name is Lilly, and we love her.”
The Rock Hill City Council is going to honor the four employees Monday at the council meeting.
After the ambulance left for the hospital Wednesday night, Hernandez and the utility workers finished at the scene. The workers finally left.
Hernandez did, too. But he did not go for doughnuts. Hernandez drove to the hospital and checked on Lilly.
“He was there making sure she was all right,” Susan Weiss said. “What a great guy.”
Hernandez’s shift supervisor, Lt. Marc Kitts, was not surprised that Hernandez acted so quickly to help someone in need – and then didn’t make a big deal of it. Kitts called Hernandez a “humble guy” who doesn’t seek attention or even praise.
“He’s a terrific officer who does a great job,” Kitts said.
Hours later, when doctors released Lilly and her mother, when the fever was under control and the threat gone, Kayla Smith had to go back to Love’s Plaza to get her car. She looked across the lot. In his police car, still on the job, waiting to help again, sat a police officer.
It was Officer Rex Hernandez.
Kayla Smith learned Hernandez had taught CPR in the military. She thanked Hernandez with all the strength she had left.
Rex Hernandez finished his 12-hour shift at 6 a.m. Thursday, then went home to his own family.
At the same time, Kayla Smith was home with her daughter, who was breathing, with a beautiful healthy skin that was not blue. And in her thoughts she once again thanked the stranger in blue who saved little Lilly.