Chester County prosecutor Julie Hall’s public service usually is representing the people of South Carolina in court. Sunday she wore a different service badge – rescuer.
Hall helped her husband, Tom, a Chester native, and teen sons Brice and Graham rescue an 87-year-old man trapped in a flooded car north of Columbia.
“It was scary, very scary, but there was no way we could wait for help because 911 was so inundated with calls,” Hall said. “I was scared for Tom, but we were all worried about the man in the car.”
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It all happened near a small, flood-prone lake near Exit 24 of Interstate 77, north of Columbia. The Halls live nearby, and knowing the area’s history for flooding, they went door-to-door to make sure no one was trapped. But off a cut-through road Tom Hall saw a car trapped in a rising creek.
“It was just about submerged,” Tom Hall said.
From inside the car, a hand and arm snaked out. Julie Hall called 911 and rushed home to get a boat and life jackets. Tom Hall realized he had to try to help. He saw inside the vehicle it was not just an older man – the man was holding a dog and the water was still rising and the current was fast.
Tom Hall tried a canoe but the current was too rapid. The canoe banged into the trees and the car. So Hall pushed out using trees and ropes, making his way to the car and hanging on.
The man, a World War II survivor of Nazi terror who was born in Germany, told Tom Hall that after all he had survived in his life – the bombings as a child and more – that he was “ready to die” in a strange place, lost, with the water rising.
But the Halls would not allow it.
“No way was that man going to die out there,” Tom Hall said.
Tom Hall gave the man a life jacket and pulled him and his dog out the window.
The family was able to get the man to safety through several feet of water by pulling him with the ropes, the teenaged sons Brice and Graham and later the younger son Logan all helping and hauling. Julie Hall held onto the man as she lay half-submerged. Finally, both Tom Hall and the man could reach higher ground.
The man was carried to warmth. Tom Hall, smiled, laughed, thought about how dangerous it was and how he could have died and then collapsed onto the ground from fatigue.
The man, named George Osterhues, is from Canada. He was on his way to Florida and had to get off the Interstate because of the flooding, then got himself lost. He took wrong turns and ended up stranded in rising waters. The Halls found him and doing what people do in a crisis – helped.
It did not matter that Osterhues was a stranger.
“He was out there for two hours, cold,” Tom Hall said.
The family finally headed home for some warm tea and a warming shot of bourbon and a hot meal, with Osterhues right there with them. Julie Hall’s father, a doctor, came over to check on Osterhues, who even stayed over Sunday night.
“He is just a great person,” Julie Hall said.
Osterhues’ car ended up totaled. But he had lived through the Nazis. He was dry and warm and had found new friends who did not drive by when he needed them. He got a rental car for the rest of the trip to Florida.
Reached by phone Monday evening, Osterhues said he never thought his trip through South Carolina would take a detour like it did. But he sure is thankful that the Halls showed him true Southern hospitality.
“Tom, his family, they are the best,” Osterhues said. “Wonderful.”
And yes, Osterhues’ Yorkshire terrier, Tila, was rescued and is fine, too.
Andrew Dys: 803-329-4065