GREEN COVE SPRINGS – Five people are probably alive because City of Green Cove Springs Assistant Director of Public Works Steve Thomas was at the right place at the right time.
Thomas recently was awarded the Cove Star Award after he rescued five people from a capsized boat in the St. Johns River. The award, given to “citizens that demonstrate the kind of commitment, cooperation, responsibility, and respect that are crucial in maintaining a strong community,” was given after he responded in his private boat to five people in the water – three of who’ve been identified as Taylor Marie Durbin of Keystone Heights, Michael Mattera and Thomas Matthews, Jr.
“Everything with the timing worked out perfect for the rescue to go off great,” Thomas said. “[Sgt.] Tammy Perry thinking about me and my boat, rescue showing up at the boat ramp to get aboard and go out with me to help with the rescue, and Zack Cox with Clay County Sheriff’s Office responding to the call, as well, and assisted in the rescue.”
Perry was on duty on that day. She was on the way home at the end of her shift when the call came in for distressed people in the water. Perry quickly changed course and took over as the officer-in-charge on-site for the Green Cove Springs Police Department.
“We don’t get them [this type of call] often, but we do get them,” said Perry. “Getting the boat into the water would take some time, so she and other responding officers headed to the nearby condominiums to see if anyone had a boat available to try and assist. By that time, the victims’ ship had nearly sunk, and they were in the water hanging onto the anchor line of another boat. One of the victims was also holding a puppy.
“Without hesitation, he [Thomas] came out,” said Perry. “No questions asked. That’s just how Steve is. He went straight to the Governor’s Creek boat ramp so he could pick up the rescue personnel. He picked up; I think it was Sgt. Cox with the Sheriff’s Office and picked up the rescue personnel and went straight out there and got ‘em all straight out of the water. I’ve known him for 20 years. That’s just how he is. There’s no hesitation with him; he’s always just willing to help everybody.”
Victoria Thomas was the Green Cove Springs dispatcher on the day of the accident. She also coincidentally is Thomas’s niece. When the call came in, and marine units were unavailable at that moment, she thought of her uncle.
“My uncle has worked for the city of Green Cover for over 20 years, I do believe,” she said. “I knew because he’s my uncle, he’s got a boat right there. I thought, ‘I wonder if Tammy [SGT Perry] wants me to call my uncle to see if he can get his boat in the water real fast because he should’ve just gotten home. About the time I went to key up on the mic and ask her that, she keyed up and said, hey, ‘Does Steve Thomas have a boat out here?’” (Victoria) Thomas called and helped to get the ball rolling on the rescue.
(Steve) Thomas knew he had to respond quickly because he was unsure how long the victims had been in the water.
“I was glad to help the agencies responding to the call,” he said. “It was great thinking from Sgt. Tammy Perry from Green Cove Police Department to think of me having my boat on a lift with quick access to the river to get out there quick.”
Thomas and the members of the rescue personnel also were able to act quickly and save the victims.
“There were a lot of moving parts to make this a success, like Green Cove Springs Police Department Communications Officer Victoria McDaniel, who called me and got me moving as well,” said Thomas. “She also knew I had my boat close and could be there quick if I was home. So, everything just worked out perfect to be a successful rescue.”
None of the five people who were rescued were available for comment.