Aleta Cyvertsen from River Bend, North Carolina, was being a good Samaritan on April 12, mowing her elderly neighbor’s yard — but that decision nearly cost her her life.
Cyvertsen, who has a John Deere riding lawnmower, occasionally mows the neighbor’s yard. That yard is skirted by a canal, with not much between the edge of the yard and a drop into the water.
Somehow, while mowing, Cyvertsen hit the gas instead of the brakes, launching her over the edge and into the water below.
The mower fell on top of her, pinning her in three feet of water. She was trapped and taking on water, and she didn’t think she’d make it out alive.
Thankfully, the elderly neighbor saw what had happened and called police — and again, thankfully, the police chief for the area just happened to be seconds away.
“She was cutting grass in her [neighbor’s] backyard, and she said she accidentally hit the gas instead of the brake and went right off the [waterfront] bulkhead into the water,” River Bend Police Chief Sean Joll told the Sun Journal.
“The lawnmower had flipped over on top of her pinning her to the bottom of the canal … She got very lucky because the tide was out.”
Joll was the first on the scene, and immediately entered the canal to help keep Cyvertsen’s head above water. Even as she heard help approaching, though, she thought she was a goner until she saw Joll beside her.
“I heard the sirens, and I said, ‘I’m not gonna be here when they get here because I kept taking on water,’” she said. “It was painful, but I’m very fortunate because that mower was on my back like a piggyback. But the officers came and jumped in with no hesitation.
“In between taking on water, I was hollering for help. The first thing I saw was khaki pants, and I knew it was River Bend Police Department. I said, ‘Well, I am going to be okay.’”
A short while later, River Bend Police Sergeant Johnathan Whitley and Corporal Josef “Grant” Williams also arrived. They jumped in and moved the lawnmower.
“The way her body was contoured, she couldn’t move unless the lawnmower was physically moved off of her,” Joll said.
After being rescued from the canal, Cyvertsen was flown to Vidant Medical Center in Greenville with broken ribs, lacerations on her leg, mouth damage and other injuries — but she was alive, thanks to multiple factors that played out in her favor, and especially the officers who stepped in.
“We’re always prepared to expect more if we need to, so our mindset can be ready to evolve and adapt to the situation as we arrive on the scene,” Whitley said. “Most of the time, we haven’t even realized we’ve done anything to save a life until after the fact.”
“I’m just very proud of my officers and how they responded,” Joll added. “They did not hesitate whatsoever to get in the water and help assist.”
Since that day, the three officers have been recognized for their life-saving efforts.
“We are proud of the quick and diligent response our Officers did when they answered the call!” the River Bend Police Department shared on Facebook. “We are proud to serve The Town of River Bend and also thankful a life was saved and not taken on that day!”
“We often hear people say seconds can be the difference between life and death,” River Bend City Manager Delane Jackson added, according to the Sun Journal. “This is likely one of those cases. Had the response time been delayed by 30 seconds, the outcome could have been much worse … Our officers literally dove in and performed as needed.”