Michael Scoggins and Kim Smith of the Sequatchie County Rescue Squad warm up with hot coffee back at the station after their rescue mission on Fredonia Mountain.
Feb. 19, 2019 – A rescue mission deep in the muddy woods atop Fredonia Mountain had a happy outcome today, as members of the Sequatchie County Rescue Squad successfully brought a family of three to safety.
The Tapley family went into the woods with a 4-wheel-drive Chevy Trailblazer, but they took a wrong turn just as a fresh round of rain started turning the already-saturated mud to sticky gravy. The truck got stuck. They found themselves out of cell phone range and a long way from a paved road.
Shirley Tapley said her son, Frank, and great-grandson, Christopher, worked for over two hours putting sticks and rocks under the tires in an effort to gain traction before finally deciding to walk out.
“We knew there wasn't any human habitation any where around there,” she said.
The Tapleys left their Graysville home Tuesday morning to look at some property for sale on Fredonia. Christopher was interested in possibly buying a lot in a new development called “Heavenly Hills,” and his grandfather and great-grandmother agreed to take him to look at the land.
The truck made it in okay, going up and down the hills, along what had been old logging roads. Where the road split, Frank Tapley angled down the fork to the land.
After having a look at the property, he decided to follow the loop on around, rather than retrace their steps. But it turned out that it was not a loop, but a long, rough road that led deeper into the woods.
As the rain started, the Tapleys realized they went the wrong way, but the mud was turning into treacherous slop, and when they tried to turn around, they just slid deeper into the mire.
After trying a couple of hours to get the truck un-stuck, they made the decision to walk out, but they had not gone very far before Frank decided his mother simply was not up to a hike.
“She started, and got just a little ways and we decided it was best for her to stay in the truck and keep herself warm,” he said.
When the two men made it out of the woods, they found themselves at John Henry Lewis and Roaring Creek Road. Catching a cell signal, they called 911. It was about 1:45 p.m.
The Sequatchie County Sheriff's Department and Emergency Management Agency (EMA) were dispatched. EMA Director Winfred Smith said after they picked up the two men they drove them several miles, to where they had originally gone into the woods on Elk Drive. And Smith called in reinforcements.
“Once we talked to them, we called the Rescue Squad with their 4-wheel-drive trucks,” he said. “That was about 2:15.”
Rescue Squad Captain Michael Scoggins drove the truck through the rain and mud, and through a creek, back to where Shirley Tapley waited.
“We drove 8 miles back into the woods, as far as we could,” he said. “Then we walked in from there. It was about ¼ mile from the truck to where she was.”
Once she was assisted through the woods back to the Rescue Squad truck, it became a hazardous race against time to get out before conditions worsened.
“We crossed a creek going in,” Frank Tapley recalled. “By the time we came back, and had to go back through it, it had already risen.”
Back at the Rescue Squad building in Dunlap, volunteers wrapped the three weary Tapleys in warm blankets and plied them with hot coffee and Wendy's burgers.
When asked what he thought about the lot he went to see, Christopher Tapley proclaimed, “I don't want it now!”
“The next time I go in there,” Frank said, “it will be to get my truck out. And it'll be the last time!”
The Tapley family was happy to be in a warm, dry place after their harrowing experience in the muddy woods. L-r are Christopher, Frank, and Shirley Tapley.