Ernest Smith Jr., second from right, meets the people who performed CPR on him after he suffered a heart attack in June while driving a furniture truck near Walmart. They are, from left, Covington Police Officer Brian Capps, Newton County Sheriff's Office Deputy Charlie Cook and nurse Cathy Stephens, a Rockdale County resident. (Special photo)
COVINGTON — It was one of those days in June when the heavens opened up and rain came down in torrents and lightning was crackling all around. Three strangers were in the Walmart parking lot — a Covington Police officer checking on an illegally parked vehicle, an off-duty Newton County deputy and a Grady Hospital nurse. They heard the sounds of a vehicle crash and all three instinctively rushed to the scene. They found 72-year-old Ernest Smith Jr. slumped over the steering wheel of a Ramsey Furniture truck. He had passed out and his co-worker Tim Mitchell had grabbed the steering wheel and guided the vehicle into a tree, which stopped it. Smith was in full cardiac arrest.
Years of training kicked in and the two law enforcement officers began administering CPR.
“She came from nowhere,” said NCSO Deputy Charlie Cook of nurse Cathy Stephens, a Rockdale County resident. “I didn’t know where she came from or when she left.”
The three worked over Smith in the midst of the storm while passersby held umbrellas to shield them from the rain. Thanks to their quick efforts and the defibrillator which is standard equipment in CPD patrol units, Smith survived and met the trio for the first time since his recovery Thursday morning. There were plenty of bear hugs and handshaking from everyone.
“It’s good to meet all of the people who helped me and hear them praising God and not themselves,” Smith said. “I’m thankful to all three of you. I thank God first and I have to give him all the praises. He does put people in place and I believe it. And I want to thank the doctors, too. I can’t leave them out.”
The trio of rescuers was happy to see Smith standing on his feet, as well.
“I just give all the glory to God,” said Deputy Cook. “Out of 15 years of policing and 12 years of fire fighting, he’s the only testimony I’ve got about the Lord sending someone back.”
Covington Police Officer Brian Capps said he was glad he happened to be at the right place at the right time with the defibrillator in his car.
“If it wasn’t for God and these two,” he said, pointing to Cook and Stephens, “he wouldn’t be here. It was definitely a higher power than me. I’m just glad I rolled up. God had his hand on all of us that day.”
Stephens left the scene that day before anybody was able to get her name and thank her.
“I just did what I had to do and I left,” she said. “If somebody needs help, I’ll always stop.”
Smith said he didn’t remember much about the ordeal — couldn’t even remember the furniture delivery he and Mitchell had made prior to his attack.
“I hadn’t had any problems as far as getting short-winded and things like that. I didn’t have a pain, no hurting or anything,” he said. “It could have been building up, but as far as me feeling it, it just came on.”
Smith said the first he knew anything had happened was when someone woke him up and said he’d been in an accident. Shortly afterwards he underwent bypass surgery at Atlanta Medical Center.
Whether or not Smith will return to work is now a question for his doctors, but Smith said he’d sure like to go back to delivering furniture. He had previously retired from Hercules after 30 years of service.
Margaret Smith, Ernest Smith’s wife of 47 years, said she wanted to make sure and express thanks to Sam Ramsey, Smith’s employer, who informed her of the incident.
“He made sure I had transportation to the hospital. I was shocked and panicking, but then I said God is in control and I calmed down,” she said.
Both Smiths wanted to express special thanks to co-worker Tim Mitchell, neighbors, church members and family who have supported and encouraged them through Smith’s illness.
“If I get to naming names, I’ll miss somebody,” Smith said.
After meeting his rescuers and facing TV cameras to talk about his ordeal Smith summed things up by saying, “God is still good.”