Mark Perkins

When the van Clifford and Mary Perkins of Success was traveling in went off the road and ended up upside down in a creek on the morning of Sunday, Nov. 28, the situation could easily have ended worse than it did.

Heading southbound on Upton Road in southwest Texas County, the Perkins came to the point where Roubidoux Creek passes under the road. But they never made it across the one-lane concrete slab bridge.

Instead, the left front tire of their Kia Sedona caught the edge of the bridge slab where it is still over land and the vehicle slowly began to turn over. When it stopped moving, the passenger compartment was in the water and the wheels were pointed skyward.

The stream is at least five feet deep at the spot and the water temperature was cold. Clifford, 79, managed to free himself by kicking the door open and climbing out of the van.

But his attempts to free Mary, 70, were unsuccessful as she was stuck in such a way that he couldn’t pull her out. She also couldn’t free herself; the passenger side door couldn’t be opened because it was pinned against a concrete wall and because of an earlier stroke, she lacked the strength and mobility to undo her seat belt and make it out through the driver’s side.

But she managed to position her head in a pocket of air and was somehow able to hand a set of jumper cables to Clifford. He maneuvered them under her arms, and around her shoulders, but he still couldn’t pull her to safety. So he basically held her in place and kept her above water.

“I just knew I was going to drown,” Mary said. “The water was so cold — after a while I couldn’t feel my feet. I was just sitting there watching minnows swim around me.”

Minutes that seemed like hours passed. Another man came along and tried to help Clifford raise the water-bound victim. Still no luck.

Mary’s heavy jacket and other clothing were drenched, adding to the difficulty of the situation.

Then along came fate.

As they had countless times before, Jerry Jackson and his wife, Dara, came to the bridge on their way to the weekly service at Peace Chapel Church. But this time they were running late.

The timing was just right for the Mary Perkins. The 36-year-old, 6-foot-2 Jerry Jackson saw what was happening, exited his vehicle, removed his Sunday clothes and entered the cold water in just his underwear.

After she had been in the predicament for at least 10 minutes, Jackson proceeded to yank Mary out of the partially submerged van and pull her to the edge where Dara waited to help.

“I said ‘We can’t lift her out,'” Clifford said. “He said, ‘I can.’ It was amazing.”

“Where they went in was the deepest part around there — it was almost over my head,” Jackson said. “But I was only doing what anyone else would have done in that situation. It’s not a hero thing.”

Once he was positioned in the water next to the van, Jackson told a terrified Mary to give him her hand.

“Otherwise all I would have had to pull on was her hair,” he said. “But I would have done that if I had to.”

Other passersby happened to have blankets. The Perkins were wrapped up and taken home to a safer, dryer environment.

Coincidentally, Jackson is on the Upton Township board of directors. He said caution markers have been placed on and near the low bridge several times in the past, but they always end up being swept away when storm waters carry large branches or logs through the area.

“Every time we put them up, they get washed away,” Jackson said.

Also by interesting coincidence, the Jackson’s tardiness that day was totally out of character.

“We never run late for church,” he said. “But we were that time.”

The van was a total loss. A friend from the Perkins’ own church — Hickory Ridge Baptist — has given them another van to use as long as necessary.

“It was an awful experience,” Mary said. “But there were a bunch of good people to help us. God was with us. There’s no doubt in my mind.”

It was an awful experience. But there were a bunch of goodpeople to help us.”

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