Local Trooper saves drowning woman
On Tuesday, Sept. 4 NC State Trooper J.T. Gibbs and a few Good Samaritans helped save the life of a woman caught in rapids while tubing in the Tuckasegee River near Bryson City.
For most, the actions of Gibbs would be called an act of heroism, but for Gibbs it’s just part of why he wears a uniform.
Troopers spend much of their time on the highway, enforcing the laws of the road and investigating accidents. This afternoon would be different.
“Whenever we went to patrol school they issued us a life jacket and throw rope. It’s something you never hear of a trooper having to use; it would be a very rare occasion,” Gibbs said.
Around 1:15 p.m., Gibbs was traveling on US 19 near the Governor’s Island Bridge in Swain County when he was flagged down and notified a woman was drowning in the river.
Gibbs exited his patrol vehicle and observed Lindsey Lamm Woolard, 35, of Wilmington, who was trapped partially under a log jam.
“Her son, a young boy, flagged me down. He was standing on the bridge and said his mom was under the water and she flipped on the tube. Her daughter was on a rock below the bridge,” Gibbs said. “Whenever I was coming across he was on the left side of the bridge there was another guy running across the bridge.”
“I exited my car and went down to the river, I couldn’t see her when I first got down there,” he said.
Woolard’s husband was already in the water, attempting to help his wife.
Gibbs immediately obtained his issued swift water equipment consisting of a life preserver and throw rope.
“I took my sidearm and Taser out of my belt and jumped in and then got on top of the log jam,” Gibbs said.
The water was swift and fairly high, up to Gibbs arms. “I actually got in the river at the log jam. Our shoes are extremely slick, and I didn’t think I could walk across it, but I ended up walking across, and then I laid on top of the log jam.”
Gibbs reached Woolard and placed the life preserver around her. Using the throw rope, Gibbs and other civilians were able to free her from the water’s current and pull her to safety.
Woolard was treated and released by EMS at the scene.
Gibbs said it felt good to be of service in a time of need.
“That’s why we take our job, for saving lives and helping people,” Gibbs said. “It feels good to get to do it, and I don’t expect anything out of the whole situation; it’s what I love to do, and that’s what we’re here for.”
Gibbs, who grew up in Jackson County and Graham County, lives in Stecoah Valley with his wife and their 10-year-old daughter. He’s been a Trooper in Swain County for two years. Previously, he was stationed as a Trooper in Macon County and worked for two years with the Graham County Sheriff’s Office before becoming a Trooper.