SC woman thanks officers who revived her during flood: 'Without them, I wouldn't be here'
Amber Lloyd hugged the three officers a day after being released from the hospital
By Elizabeth Townsend
The Sun News
MYRTLE BEACH, SC — The first time Amber Lloyd met the three corrections officers, she was dead.
On Sunday afternoon, the men pulled her breathless body from a drainage ditch along Harris Shortcut Road. Officer James Thompkins held her head. Officer Donnell Hargrove gave her mouth to mouth. Lt. Scott Bower did chest compressions.
At first, her skin was bluish purple. Finally, her lips moved, as did her eyes.
Despite being under water for more than two minutes, the 28-year-old was conscious by the time she reached Conway Medical Center.
The second time Lloyd met the officers, she was weeping. On Wednesday, she hugged each man and gushed gratitude.
“You all were definitely angels by my side that day,” she said. “Every single one of you.”
So far, 17 people have perished in South Carolina’s recent floods. Lloyd came close to being No. 18.
‘I grabbed on’
Around 5:30 p.m. Sunday, she and her 29-year-old boyfriend Nick Streibig left the Brookgreen mobile home park to walk to the Sunhouse gas station for cigarettes. The convenience store sits at the end of Harris Shortcut on U.S. 701 in the Conway area.
The couple wanted to drive, but the water was too deep on the roads. Before she left, Lloyd’s 8-year-old daughter Autumn urged her not to go out in the storm.
On their way, Lloyd and Streibig began snapping cell phone pictures of the rushing water. When they spotted a swirling pattern, they didn’t realize it was near a ditch.
“We saw that little whirlpool and we were both kind of intrigued,” she said. “He and I leaned over to take a look at it. I mean, everything felt OK. And then just, in a matter of seconds...”
Lloyd felt the ground give way beneath her. She reached for Streibig.
“Help me,” she begged. “Help me.”
Her boyfriend grabbed her hand and fell into the swift water. He tried to swim, but the current sucked him into a drain pipe that ran beneath two-lane Harris Shortcut.
Streibig didn’t fight the flow and he emerged from the other side. Lloyd, however, clung to the edge of the pipe.
“I remember it taking me by my feet and I grabbed on,” she said. “My neck and my head were still out of the pipe. And I had my eyes open. I had my eyes open and I could still see trees and light and I was trying to reach my hand up, but I wasn’t sure if it was actually coming out of the water for someone to see or not. I just held on and I kicked. I tried to give myself enough power to pull and push myself out of the pipe. And I just kept thinking, ‘Amber, just be calm. Don’t panic. Don’t swallow water.’”
When Lloyd lost consciousness, the water carried her body through the pipe.
‘Just jumped in the water’
Shortly before the couple’s trip, Hargrove picked up Thompkins on his way work. The two officers have each worked at the J. Reuben Long Detention Center for a year, and they usually ride together en route to the night shift.
Physically, they couldn’t look more different. Hargrove, 33, stands well north of 6 feet and has the body of an offensive lineman. Each of his large forearms bears tattoos. Thompkins, 24, has a smaller build and no marks below his sleeves.
Mentally, the two share the same response instincts. When they saw the couple in trouble, they rushed to help.
“We didn’t think about it,” Thompkins said. “Just jumped in the water.”
So did Bower, a U.S. Marine Corps veteran who has worked at the jail for six and a half years. He was off-duty and driving by when he saw the officers in the ditch and joined them.
Initially, the officers went to the side of the pipe Lloyd had been clinging to, but they couldn’t reach her. When she washed out on the other side, she was partially submerged and face down. Then they went to work on CPR.
“I remember the ambulance ride,” Lloyd said. “And I remember them trying to keep me awake and grabbing my arms and grabbing my feet and trying to talk to me and have me tell them my name and count for me. I remember everything.”
Streibig, who was also rescued by the officers, wondered if they would get to the hospital in time. The storm made travel difficult. And his girlfriend been under water for so long.
But he spoke to her briefly in the emergency room. And after a few days in the hospital, Lloyd returned home.
‘A son, a daughter and a mother’
The couple came to the jail Wednesday to say thanks.
When meeting Lloyd, the officers smiled warmly and embraced her. There were hugs and encouragement, as well as an invitation for a free dinner that was respectfully declined.
The jailers shook off any talk of heroism.
“Not heroes,” Hargrove said. “Just training kicked in.”
“I just got out of the truck to see what I could do,” Bower said. “That’s all.”
“It could’ve been my momma,” Thompkins said. “It could have been my sister. Just did what somebody else would have done.”
The couple they pulled out of the flooded ditch doesn’t see it that way.
“Yeah, they saved two people,” Streibig said. “But they also saved a son, a daughter and a mother.”
Lloyd told her family she wanted to meet the officers during her first night in the hospital. A day after being released, she got the chance.
“Without them,” she said. “I wouldn’t be here.”