Johnston County officials recovered the body of a 30-year-old Youngsville man from flooded waters late Monday morning, nearly 24 hours after they began a search for him and the car he was in.
Thomas Bradley Page was the only one in the car who did not escape as it began to sink into Swift Creek off Cornwallis Road near N.C. 42. First responders were able to rescue four others who were able to get out of the car in time. As of Thursday, Page was one of 20 in North Carolina who died in the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew.
Matthew was a Category 1 hurricane by the time it reached North Carolina. However, it caused major flooding, especially in the eastern part of the state, including Johnston County.
State Highway Patrol responded to a call at 4:33 a.m., Sunday morning, that a 2012 Nissan Versa had become submerged in water on the road in the Cleveland community. Cornwallis Road is a two-way street where the speed limit is 55 miles per hour. At the bottom of a hill is a bridge that sits over Swift Creek.
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By Saturday night, water exceeded the height of that bridge.
Authorities say the car was swept off the road when the driver tried to cross the water, and began to become submerged due to the high currents.
Cleveland Fire Chief Chris Ellington said firefighters blocked off the area on both sides of Cornwallis late Saturday before the accident. He said the car continued on the road, despite the barricade being there.
Ellington said when firefighters arrived to the scene, there were three cars stuck in the water, and one that couldn’t be seen. He said two people had already rescued themselves, two people were standing on top of one of the cars, and three others were in a tree and had to be rescued by Davie County Emergency Management Water Rescue.
Page was missing and wasn’t recovered until 11:45 a.m. on Monday. Authorities say when the car was recovered they found Page in the front passenger seat, partially out of the vehicle as if he were trying to get out.
According to his obituary, Page was a chef at Simple Twist in Smithfield. He was described as “very kind hearted.”
“He was a free spirit with a unique sense of humor,” his obituary stated. “He was a very private person and would only tell you what he wanted to tell you.”
Residents in a nearby neighborhood said the water had exceeded the height of the bridge late Saturday. Dave Noffsinger, 43, a resident of the South Hills subdivision, said the bridge had become unpassable by the time he had gotten home at 8 p.m. And when he checked again at 10 p.m., the bridge was fully submerged.
“I saw a couple of people trying to go through it but they were turning around,” Noffsinger said. “You could see it with the headlights and you could see the trash and everything else coming from the flood waters rushing across the road. There’s no way anybody should have tried that. It had such a force that it had white caps coming across the road.”
Bob Meyer, 55, also a resident of the nearby South Hills subdivision, said he, too, saw the water Saturday night. He said it was noticeable even at night for drivers to see.
“The water was rushing through there,” he said.
Last week’s death at the Swift Creek bridge on Cornwallis Road was the third fatality at the same exact spot. In 1999, after Hurricane Floyd caused major flooding, Emily Mobley, 5, and her father, Paul W. Mobley were swept away by flood waters into the creek. It took days for first responders to locate their car and bodies.