'Epitome of selflessness': Mizzou player, coach rescue driver from flooding
Like he does just about every morning, Missouri wide receiver Jarrin McKeithen drove south on Providence Road in Columbia, headed to a team workout at the Tigers’ football facility. Normally, when he reaches the bottom of the hill where Providence intersects Mick Deaver Memorial Drive, McKeithen would turn left. But last Friday, before he made it to the intersection, he pulled his car onto the side of the road, parked and jumped out.
The scene in front of McKeithen looked like something you’d see on the Weather Channel. Torrential, unrelenting rain had swollen Hinkson Creek to the point that it spilled across Providence, covering roughly 100 yards of roadway. Yet it wasn’t just the impassable road that caused McKeithen to leave his car. In the flooding, he noticed a vehicle stuck in the rising water, engine stalled, hazard lights flashing. McKeithen wanted to help.
“I just saw the car flooded with their hazards on, and I was like, yeah, I might as well help, help our community,” McKeithen said. “And just hopped out, ran over.”
A few seconds later, Missouri cornerbacks coach Aaron Fletcher drove by the scene on his way to the facility. First, he saw McKeithen’s car parked on the side of the road, then he noticed McKeithen running toward the flooding. He called out to McKeithen, a walk-on who joined the team in June after transferring from Lincoln University, asking who was inside the car in distress.
No idea, McKeithen remembers saying.
Okay, hold on, Fletcher said. I’m coming too.
“We just saw a need, and it’s the same thing that you would want for anybody,” Fletcher explained. “You know, you see somebody stuck in that situation and you’ve heard horror stories about how that stuff ends. So in the moment, you don’t think about anything. You’re just making sure that she was safe. And I wanted to make sure that our player was safe, too, to tell you the truth.”
When Fletcher and McKeithen arrived at the car, the water reached past their knees. They found the driver, a woman, talking on the phone, explaining her predicament to the fire department. She kept trying to start the car’s engine, but it wouldn’t turn over. At one point, she tried opening the car door to escape, but as water quickly started pouring into the vehicle, she reconsidered.
Fletcher and McKeithen both admitted that they didn’t exactly have time to form a plan before charging into the water. Fletcher said his main focus was keeping the driver of the car calm while they assessed the group's options.
“The plan was just, honestly, just feeling it out,” Fletcher said. “Number one, I was just really concerned about her. Wasn’t too much concerned about the vehicle, you know what I mean? In that situation, you know, I was concerned about her and didn’t want her to get overexcited and go into a frenzy, so to speak, or make matters a little bit more challenging.”
Fletcher initially suggested that he and McKeithen help the driver out of the car and take her to the football facility, but she didn’t want to leave the vehicle. As the water continued to rise, however, that started to look like the only option. In the few minutes the two were standing in the flooding, Fletcher said it rose to waist-deep. He worried about the water becoming too deep and the current too strong to carry the driver to safety, plus McKeithen, who was wearing flip-flops, getting hurt by whatever sharp objects or wildlife might be floating by. McKeithen admitted that, when Fletcher brought up the possibility of snakes in the water, he got a little bit nervous.
“He said there might be some snakes and I started freaking out a little bit,” McKeithen said. “That’s when I said, alright, we gotta start figuring something out.”
Fortunately, Fletcher and McKeithen never had to try and extricate the driver from the vehicle. She made one final attempt to start the car’s engine, and this time, it roared to life. Fletcher and McKeithen pushed the car as she drove it onto dry land.
“I tell you, it was an act of God,” Fletcher said. “It wound up being a situation where she cranked it one more time and it stayed cranked up, and we were able to push her out. I don’t know how, but we were able to push her out, and she got it in neutral afterwards, and we just pushed her out on the side of Providence.”
It turned out, the actions of Fletcher and McKeithen helped save another motorist, too. As the duo pushed the woman to safety, they noticed the sound of honking. That’s when they saw another car caught in the flooding on the northbound side of Providence, this one submerged even deeper. Fortunately, around the time Fletcher and McKeithen had gotten the first car out of the water, the fire truck the driver had summoned arrived. McKeithen signaled to the first responders to tend to the car on the other side of the road.
“I didn’t notice it until we pushed the lady’s car out, until that person over there started honking, and that’s exactly when the fire truck pulled up,” McKeithen said. “And we were like, okay, we got her, see if (the fire truck) could go help them, because their car was way underwater, and I know they probably needed some help.”
Once they pushed the first car to safety and made sure the driver was alright, Fletcher and McKeithen didn’t hang around long. McKeithen still had to get to workout (he said he made it on time). They never learned the name of the woman they helped rescue. But before Fletcher and McKeithen left, the woman embraced each of them and thanked them for rescuing her.
“She gave us both a hug and was just, like, super grateful, and said she was going to be fine,” Fletcher said.
Fletcher heaped praise on McKeithen for helping avert what “could have been a bad situation.” If McKeithen hadn’t already been running toward the car, he said, he might not have seen it. And it would have been easy to turn around when McKeithen saw the flooding, to worry about how he was going to get to the workout or pass on wading into the water while wearing flip-flops.
Instead, Fletcher believes McKeithen’s decision to rush to the aid of the driver illustrates the character of a player who, even though he may not be known to many fans, has won over the coaches during his short stint with the Missouri program.
“That is the epitome of selflessness,” Fletcher said. “... He’s a hero to me. He’s the hero to me. I think the world of him. I’ve always thought, just meeting him, me being new, thought that he was a great young man. Seeing that, he didn’t have to do that.”