Author’s Note: Grace Under Pressure is an on-going series of posts honoring everyday people who courageously make positive differences in their own lives and consequently in the lives of others. It is my own personal affirmation that unexpected heroes reside among us and that they serve as quiet but unshakable proof that virtue really is its own reward – and ours, too.
By Mark Esposito, Guest Blogger
On the blog, we justifiably point out the civil rights abuses we see committed by our law enforcement. Clothed with police power and enormous discretion to affect our lives and the lives of our family and friends, we expect more from them than the average citizen in terms of sensitivity to our wellbeing. When pointing out those abuses we do well to remember there is another side, too, when we get much more than we expect.
Scott County, Arkansas is a hardscrabble place with a population just over 11,000. That’s a little less that the number in 1900 and the 3000 or so families that live there trace their community’s roots back to the times of President James Monroe. The terrain is rugged as you’d expect from the land smack dab in the middle of the Ouachita Mountains (derived from the bastardized Choctaw words for “large buffaloes”), and the folks there are as independent, hardy, and proud as you would expect from people whose closest neighbor is often a mile or so away. The hollers, crags, and slopes of the Large Buffaloes mountains are criss-crossed with little streams and runs that give the scene a bucolic vista that attracts painters and photographers. Those streams form the Fourche La Fave River which runs about 150 miles through some of Arkansas’ most undisturbed, idyllic countryside. It may not be Heaven, but to outdoor enthusiasts it’s close.
Cody Carpenter was a “lifer” in law enforcement terms as well as in Scott County terms. Born and raised in the county seat at Waldron and knowing most everybody and every place in this highland community, he was a natural for public service. Starting with the Scott County Sheriff’s Office in 1996 he rose through the ranks enforcing traffic laws, investigating burglaries, rounding up loose livestock, and checking door knobs late at night in his hometown. In 2004, he was elected sheriff and then kept the job in four subsequent elections all with a very simple idea about what his job was about. “It’s (about) caring for the people and earnestly trying to improve the county we live in for the better,” he said when asked.
Early Friday morning, the people of Scott County would see just how much Cody Carpenter cared. Thursday night a storm moved through western Arkansas, and the skies opened up. Rain fell in torrents on the slopes of the Large Buffaloes and those bucolic streams and runs became flash flooding gushers. “The water just comes off that hill like someone is pouring a bucket in there,” said Danny Straessle, a spokesman for the Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department. “This was an incredible amount of water.” About six inches of rain fell in eight hours in the lampless blackness of Scott County and the Fourche La Fave jumped 23 feet.
Distress calls came pouring in to the Scott County Sheriff’s Office. One call from two women trapped in their home by the rising waters on Mill Creek was particularly alarming. Sheriff Carpenter and Arkansas game warden Joel Campora jumped in the patrol SUV with boat in tow and took off towards the swamped home. Carpenter and Campora were the first to arrive at the house and saw the flood waters engulfing the residence. Unhitching the boat, they made their way towards the man-made enclave in the rushing torrent. “As they approached the residence, they noticed that flooding waters were rising rapidly. [Within moments], other deputies on scene heard a loud crash,” Sebastian County Sheriff Bill Hollenbeck explained Friday afternoon during a news conference. The tiny house had imploded from the overwhelming force of the water. Despite heroic efforts to save them, all four bodies were swept away.
Sheriff Carpenter’s body was found downstream on Mill Creek on Friday morning around 8:00 a.m. As his gurney passed, law enforcement officials and volunteers with the Red Cross in Arkansas lined the road in silent tribute as Carpenter’s body was escorted back from where he was found. As of yesterday, the two women and Joel Campora were unaccounted for. Flags were lowered to half-staff in Waldron as the community mourned the loss of its heroic native son and his equally heroic companion.
“He was the best sheriff I’ve ever seen and that’s as far as I’ll go,” said Scott County Judge James Forbes. State Rep. Terry Rice, R-Ark., who’s known the sheriff’s family for many years, said of his Democratic friend: “He wasn’t satisfied behind the desk, and that was Cody. He’s hands on, and that’s what he was doing in the early morning hours this morning is trying to help people.”
Imagine climbing into a tiny boat in the face of a rushing wall of water whose roar you can clearly hear but that you can only see by the light of your flashlight. Then imagine doing that only because your neighbors have pinned a badge to your chest and placed their safety in your hands. The words “grace under pressure” don’t capture half of that kind of courage.
Cody leaves his wife Amie and his four children, Garren, Christian, Douglas and Irelynn. Even amid their grief, they must be very proud.
Source: KFSM News 5
~Mark Esposito, Guest Blogger