An elderly couple from Gilmer, Texas, found themselves stranded in the woods outside of Cleveland Saturday as they tried to make their way to Dayton. The couple’s plight was first discovered when they called for a wrecker truck to help them get unstuck from a muddy dirt road that is used for logging and deer leases.
Dale Fowler, a wrecker truck driver with Smith Towing of Cleveland, was dispatched to the couple’s location off of CR 331. Fowler said when he arrived he discovered that the couple had driven down a dirt road at the dead end of CR 331.
“I started driving down the road but I got to a point where even I couldn’t drive through it. I was on the phone back and forth with them. I was asking if they had passed certain landmarks and when they said they had, I knew I was on the right route,” Fowler said.
When he came to a flooded portion of the road, which he described as a half-acre section of the road covered in water, Fowler couldn’t go any further.
“It wasn’t a real road at this point. It couldn’t get to them because I wasn’t sure how deep the water was. I called the Liberty County Sheriff’s Office because I couldn’t reach them,” Fowler said.
Liberty County Sheriff’s Patrol Sgt. Travis Pierce and Deputies Bridget Sumrall and Danielle Berry arrived to help, as did some citizens on four-wheel drive vehicles and tractors. Larry Allen, a former Pct. 6 deputy constable, contacted Clay Dean, operator of Cleveland Municipal Airport. Allen asked Dean to take up a plane to search for the couple by air. Fifteen minutes after they had taken off from the airport, the couple was located by a private citizen on a tractor.
Fowler, with the assistance of Smith Towing manager Jesse Burch, helped coordinate the rescue through phone calls from the couple, private citizens and law enforcement. A few minutes into the search, they received a phone call from Jerry Smith, who was at his deer lease, to say he had found the couple and they were okay.
A little while later, the couple was escorted from the woods by the rescue vehicles, including Hazmat International, and they continued on their trip to Dayton. Fowler suspects the couple may have confused CR 331 with State Highway 321.
“They had followed Google maps down CR 331. They were on their way to Dayton,” he said.
Fowler and Burch kept up with communication with the couple until they were rescued.
“No one would have found them or had any clue of where they were if it hadn’t been for them calling Smith Towing. I just happened to be the driver dispatched to help them,” he said. “They were three and a half miles out in the deer lease when they finally stopped and called for help. I can’t believe they drove across a pipe bridge. That would have been the point where I would have turned back. All you have to do is ride down that road a short distance and you’ll say, ‘Why would anyone in a Ford Fusion go five feet down this road?'”