Wheatland Electric is guided by the seven cooperative principles. The seventh cooperative principle is “Concern for the Community,” and while we usually hear stories about Wheatland working with the communities inside our service territory, sometimes our employees take those principles to other communities.
JIM WELKER, manager of IT/ Broadband, has been with Wheatland for 12 years. On Memorial Day weekend, Welker’s family met up with some friends north of Amarillo, Texas, to do some ATV/UTV trail-riding and camping near the Canadian River.
“We go ride every chance we get,” Welker said. “It’s family time. We get to unplug for a few days, and just spend some time outdoors doing what we love.”
After the long road trip, they set up camp, and everything was going as planned but soon the rain poured down. In between downpours, they were able to ride, but now they were being more cautious. The riders had to watch out for deep mudholes and quicksand, all the while being caked in red Texas mud.
“When I’m unsure of river crossings and mudholes I will get out and walk them before I drive just to be safe—the common saying is ‘turn around, don’t drown,’” Welker said.
On Saturday, Welker and his wife, Teri, were leading a convoy of riders on a night excursion. A few minutes after the group had crossed a river, Teri noticed the water
“When she (Teri) said something about the river coming up, I initially thought the dark was playing tricks on us, but 10 to 15 minutes later you could see how quickly
things were changing,” Welker said. “It was almost like a dam was opened, the way the water level came up so fast and the speed at which the river started running.”
The convoy continued down the riverbank until one of the UTV drivers, Jason Hundertmark, thought he heard cries for help. When Welker realized the riders behind him had stopped he knew something was wrong.
“When I circled back, I saw Jason shining his lights on a married couple whose SUV had broken down in the middle of the river,” Welker said. The wife was still in the vehicle and the husband had water up to his chest and was clinging to the door. We were able to throw them a rope and hook it onto the wench and pull them to safety.”
This was only the first recovery of what would turn into a long night filled with adrenaline and scrambling to help those in trouble.
Shortly after that first rescue, the trails were buzzing with other riders searching for stranded motorists. The muddy trails made it impossible for standard motor vehicles to reach the water’s edge, but campers were able to shuttle emergency crews in their UTVs. Throughout the night campers assisted fire rescue dive teams and the Highway Patrol in rescue efforts.
During the night the rescuers found a family of eight, including two small children, sitting on top of their SUV. By the time the last victim was brought to shore, the water was inches away from completely submerging the vehicle. Throughout the night, first responders and good Samaritans had rescued a total of 15 people. By 4 a.m. the Highway Patrol had flown drones with heat cameras over the river and were confident no one else was out there.
Community isn’t just a group of people living near one another, rather a feeling of fellowship with others as a result of sharing common attitudes, interests and goals.
“When we go out riding, people are always willing to help one another. We all look out for each other, because you never know when you might be the one who needs help. It really is a tight knit community,” Welker said. “I’ve never been in that situation before, but now that I have seen how quickly conditions can change on a river, I will be adding several items to my emergency kit—inflatable life jackets, longer ropes—and next time we will be that much more prepared to help out with any type of emergency situation.”