FREEPORT — When Randy Wilkinson reached his friend’s house Monday, he was greeted by a scream.
What started out as a trip to visit his long-time friend from college ended up being the difference between life and death for a child who had gone over a nearby bridge and plunged into the Old Brazos River.
Wilkinson had just arrived to help his friend, Brad Stephens, work on his hot tub and other projects around the house at about 5 p.m. Monday in Freeport near the Velasco Boulevard bridge when a scream that could be heard from Stephens’ property prompted him to hop back in his car and search for a source.
First thinking the sounds were coming from a nearby bait shop, he sped over and searched for an injured person.
“When I got on that side (near the bait shop), I heard it from the bridge and just jumped in (the river) and swam toward the bridge and saw this kid hanging onto the wood underneath the bridge,” Wilkinson said.
Underneath the bridge was a child, who Wilkinson estimated to be about 11 to 13, keeping his chin above the surface of the water after falling from the bridge and into the river.
“I was in shock that he was in there,” Wilkinson said.
As Wilkinson swam toward the child’s voice, a nearby man on the bridge hollered that a kid had fallen in the water, Stephens said. Just as Wilkinson had done, he headed for the source.
“I took off my boots and shirt and dove in from the T-dock sign to get to the center of the river,” he said.
Under the bridge, Stephens found his friend with the boy clinging to his back as Wilkinson rested on a pylon.
“So I made my way over there and we both just kind of slowly swam back over there toward the T-dock and both of us just pushed him out of the water and onto the … dock,” Stephens said. “(The child) suffered some serious leg damage. He broke his ankle, broke his knee, broke his pelvis.”
The child had hit his leg on what they believe to be a pylon in the water, causing enough damage to make it hard for him to swim out by himself, Freeport police said.
The 11-year-old boy was taken to CHI St. Luke’s Health-Brazosport hospital in Lake Jackson, Freeport Police Chief Ray Garivey said. The child’s right leg and ankle were fractured in five spots.
“It was such perfect timing, with everything that happened throughout the course of the day in general,” Stephens said. “If I hadn’t asked Randy to come over to help around 5 p.m. with some electrical issues — he pulled up at the right moment to hear that kid scream. Then one thing led to another and both of us were blessed to be there to save the kid’s life.”
Wilkinson, a resident in Lake Jackson, said he had never experienced a moment like that, describing the series of events of him diving into the water simply as “instinct.”
“I helped out during the hurricanes with a boat, but nothing serious like that,” he said. “Nothing life or death. I feel like he was just barely hanging on for dear life.”
The two men have been described as heroic by police department officials after the events that transpired.
“It’s amazing to see citizens risk their own lives to save someone else,” Garivey said. “I am very proud to be a part of a community with heroes like these two men.”
The difference between life and death for the child might have only been seconds if not for Wilkinson’s actions, Stephens said.
“Everything was so perfectly timed that if Randy didn’t make it over there, literally maybe five seconds after that it would have been too late,” he said. “The kid was hanging on by his fingertips. The only thing sticking out of the water was basically the kid’s chin because he had his head straight up.”
But even with his help, Stephens said, Wilkinson was the one responsible for saving the child’s life.
“Randy, he’s the hero,” he said. “No doubt about it. I made it out there to support him if he got in trouble or needed a breather.”
The situation could have been very tragic if Stephens and Wilkinson had not been there to save the day, Garivey said.
Wilkinson is a maintenance electrician in Freeport and has a 1-year-old daughter.