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Ellijay, GA
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Chief Larry Callahan kneels by the downed tree that almost cost him his life at the Cartecay Rapids neighborhood. (Photo by Mark Millican)
 
by Mark Millican

A day after almost being electrocuted during a flash flooding evacuation effort, East Ellijay Police Chief Larry Callahan said in understatement, “I’m just proud to be here.”

“I’m OK, my arms and legs are still numb,” East Town’s top cop reported after having a tree and power lines come down on him while trying to escape the rising floodwaters of the Cartecay River. “Anything that’s not numb hurts. But I’ll be honest with you — I’m OK with them being numb.”

The incident occurred on Riverside Drive around 9:30 a.m. Thursday, Aug. 1, as he was wrapping up an evacuation of town homes at the river’s edge.“It put me late getting out of there,” he began. “There were high spots and low spots in the road. I tried to get through one of the low spots about 100 yards long and it had some water on it, but it was navigable at the time. But the river just came up so fast I got to the point where I pushed a little water and it made a wave and I stalled out.”

Callahan said a fireman on the scene helped him tow his cruiser up to higher ground, but as the water kept rising they decided to pull it up even further.The decision almost cost the veteran lawman his life.

‘Tree!’

“I was getting in the driver’s door, and the water was maybe knee-deep, maybe a little deeper, and I hear (the firefighter) holler ‘Tree!’  — I looked up and saw the tree bringing down some power lines,” he said.

Callahan, 44, “knew it wasn’t going to be good.” 

“Nothing that happened from there was going to be good,” he continued. “The branches and leaves knocked me down into the water, but it was more me trying to duck. I had a second or two before there was any electricity, and I thought, the (fire) truck was the only hope I had anywhere of getting. The tree was across the middle of the car, and just as that kinda crossed my mind, I got hit with the first real heavy jolt.”

Callahan remembered, “everything just went white.“

Everybody talks about blacking out — I whited out,” he explained. “When I came to and could get my senses, I had made it onto the (car) trunk but I was still getting shocked and they were getting gradually worse. I couldn’t hear, it was like someone had blown a whistle in my ears. Nothing was working, motor-skills wise. I grabbed for the tree, not realizing the tree had more juice in it than anything — so that gave me another good jolt. I called dispatch on my radio, but I don’t know if they answered me or not, I couldn’t hear them. I also knew it probably didn’t matter, ’cause they couldn’t get there anyway.”

Callahan said he feared the firefighter was dead or incapacitated — by the tree falling or the electricity.

“What I didn’t know was he had gotten on an area that wasn’t flooded and didn’t catch the electricity,” he said. “I really feared that was it — I couldn’t stay on the trunk. The stuff that was floating by in the water would sizzle — like bacon.”

‘Called my wife ... this may be it’

Callahan said with his remaining strength he called his wife and left her a message.“I told her, ‘This may be it. I don’t think I can get out,’” he recalled. “I told her I loved her. And I was at peace with it, I was OK.”

But his situation “shocked” him back into the moment.

“It was shocking me so bad on the car, I thought, ‘I gotta get off,’” he said. “My plan was to get up and jump just as far as I could jump. I knew it probably wasn’t going to help, but I thought I gotta do something. I’m not just going to step out into the water. What I didn’t know was two firefighters from Fannin County had come around the last curve (of the road) and brought a rubber boat. They realized what was going on, and they ran down there. They pushed that boat — I don’t think you can make a boat go upstream without the good Lord a-helping — but they got that boat upstream by the side of the car far enough that when I was getting ready to jump I saw it and jumped in it. They drug me back out onto the asphalt. 

“Like I said, I feel rough, but I’m in good shape.”

Callahan said doctors told him the soreness from the shock would be normal. “My kidneys hurt really bad,” he said on Friday, the day after the flash flood. “They said it would be like your body going into a severe cramp and staying that way for a long time. They said it will take awhile to get over that part.

They took an EKG (heart test) and said there would be no lasting damage. The Lord looked after me. There’s something I still need to be doing, or I wouldn’t be here.”

Daily devotionals on phone applied

When Callahan got home from the hospital, he got around to checking his phone for messages. He also read the daily devotionals he receives through his phone.

“The devotional for Thursday said, ‘From such terrible dangers of death He has saved us, and will save us, and we have placed our hope in Him that He will save us again,’” he shared.

Then the devotional for Friday blew him away.“It said, ‘Now that the worst is over, we are pleased we can report that we have come out of this with conscience and faith intact and can face the world. And even more importantly, face You with our heads held high that it was not by any fancy footwork on our part, it was God who kept his focus on us uncompromised,’” he read from the passage.

“If I’ve ever gotten two devotionals that applied, that was it,” Callahan understated again.



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