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Drowning victim's family helps buy rescue boat

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By Calen McKinney

 

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If it saves one life, he said, it's worth it.

Long-time friends and hunters Larry Stokes and Harold Wethington went duck hunting together for the last time in December.

After Campbellsville Fire & Rescue swift water rescue team members spent hours searching for the men and they had been reported missing, they discovered Stokes, of Somerset, and Wethington, who was from Liberty, had drowned in Green River.

On Friday, Stokes' family members gathered to honor his memory by helping those who helped them.

The Stokes family donated $1,230 to the fire and rescue operation, which helped them buy a new swift water rescue boat. The boat was unveiled in a ceremony and dedicated in Stokes' memory.

Kyle Smith, fire and rescue chief, said the boat will be a great help to the swift water rescue team in doing its job.

"As firefighters ... we take a lot of pride in helping people," Smith said. "That's who we're here for. That's what the public expects of us."

Smith said his personnel have high standards for how their operation is to run, and they want to always be their best.

"We want to be ready for anything," he said.

Smith said some incidents will have positive outcomes, while others, like the one that involved Stokes, don't.

"And when that happens, we take it personally. We grieve with the family."

Smith said he and his personnel talk about all the incidents they respond to, and discuss whether they could have done anything to have changed the outcome. But in Stokes' drowning, he said, he believes nothing could have been done to save him or Wethington.

"Sometimes we just don't know," he said. "But that doesn't stop us from thinking about it. We think about it all the time."

Smith said he is grateful to the Stokes family for their donation. Without their financial support, he said, the swift water rescue team wouldn't have been able to buy the boat.

"If it saves one life, it's all worth it," he said.

Taylor County Judge/Executive Eddie Rogers told the Stokes family he once lived on a river and went through a similar situation as Stokes and Wethington, though he survived.

"We don't know why," he said. "But I am sure that both of these men are up stairs looking over us today."

Rogers said the Stokes family doesn't know how much the donation means to Taylor County.

"That will save somebody's life," he said. "I know it's hard for you all, but every time this goes out, these two men will be remembered."

Captain Chris Taylor, who leads the swift water rescue team, said he and the other team members often form bonds when they respond to situations. He said that has been the case with Stokes' family.

The new boat, Taylor said, is much safer for team members and has already been used to help with a rescue in Warren County.

"It's already paid for itself," Smith said.

To end the dedication, Smith thanked his swift water rescue team.

"You guys make a difference every day," he said.

After Stokes and Wethington died, the Stokes family requested that donations be made to Campbellsville Fire & Rescue in lieu of flowers.

Stokes' wife, Vicki, said the fire and rescue personnel were very good to her and her family, updating them often on the search for her husband and offering them food and a place to stay.

"Anything we needed," she said. "We can't praise these guys enough. You're very fortunate to have them in your community."