Nobody cared at all – in fact, everybody beamed with joy – when 7-month-old Lilly Weiss cooed and cried and giggled out loud Monday night during the Rock Hill City Council meeting.
About a week ago on Cherry Road, Lilly couldn’t laugh or coo or even breathe. She nearly died before a Rock Hill police officer saved her life.
Officer Rex Hernandez – officially called a hero on Monday – said he knew immediately that Lilly was distressed around 8:30 p.m. last Wednesday. Her tiny face was blue. Her mother, Kayla Smith, was frantic.
But on Monday, Lilly, her mom and other family members were all smiles – with tears of joy and gratefulness mixed in for Hernandez’s quick actions. They were there to honor Hernandez. Piedmont Medical Center was there, too, to recognize the officer with its EMS Hero Award.
Hernandez performed CPR on Lilly in the parking lot of Love’s Plaza. He was at the intersection of Mount Gallant and Cherry roads in response to an automobile accident.
Three city utility employees were also there. A work truck had just been rear-ended by another driver.
When Lilly’s mom bolted out of her car, the infant was choking and unable to breathe in the backseat. Hernandez and the city utility workers rushed to help.
Desmond Campbell called 911 on his work radio. Daah Ross got Hernandez’s attention to start CPR. Supervisor Graham Boatwright took Lilly out of the car’s backseat and made sure her airway was clear.
All four men are fathers. Campbell and Ross each have three children, ages 4 to 16. Boatwright has a 24-year-old daughter.
“It could have been any one of our children,” Campbell said. “That’s what touches me the most.”
Hernandez’s children, 4-year-old Troy and 9-year-old Delanee, attended Monday’s ceremony. Troy said he wants to be a police officer when he grows up. Before, he wanted to be in the Air Force, where his dad gave more than 20 years of service before joining the Rock Hill Police Department in 2013.
Delanee was proud of her dad. She said the recognition and her dad’s heroic actions last week were “pretty cool.”
Lilly’s rescuers spoke few words Monday night. The accolades were a lot to take in for four men who said they were just happy to help, and they weren’t looking for recognition or awards.
When Hernandez returned home Thursday after his overnight shift, his wife, Loriel, was rushing around their house helping Troy and Delanee get ready for school that morning. She said her husband quietly told her, “I saved a baby today.”
On Monday, Hernandez said his response last week was just “autopilot.”
“My main focus was getting (Lilly) to breathe again,” he said.
From start to finish, Hernandez said the situation lasted no more than 40 seconds. “It was real quick. Autopilot. Boom. Done.”
Afterward, when he realized he’d just saved Lilly’s life, Hernandez said he thought, “That was pretty awesome.”
Boatwright said he believes it was fate that his two utility workers were rear-ended that night, necessitating Hernandez’s presence at the intersection where Smith stopped with Lilly.
“If that accident hadn’t happened, we wouldn’t have been there,” he said.