LACEY'S SPRING, AL -- As darkness set in Tuesday evening, search parties were still combing the Lacey's Spring area for an elderly man who disappeared in the early morning. During the search, authorities happened upon and rescued a woman who crashed her vehicle into a small body of water.
Chief Deputy Mike Corley of the Morgan County Sheriff's Department said he discovered the wreck while driving rural roads in search of 74-year-old Franklin Howard Payne, who wandered away from his home in the Dry Creek Cove area about 1 a.m.
About noon, Corley came across a car that was stopped on the wrong side of Northeast Morris Road. He stopped to see if everything was OK, and that's when he saw another vehicle partially submerged in a flooded, low-lying area. The man in the stopped car told Corley a woman was in the vehicle.
"I just dropped my gun belt and kicked off my boots and got in the water," Corley said. "I wasn't able to get the doors open, but I got the rear hatch open and went in there and stayed with her. It seemed like hours."
They were in the frigid water about 30 minutes, he said.
"I can't describe how cold it was," he said. "It was unbelievable, and as I went on, it got up chest-high. I thought, 'If this gets any higher, I don't think I'm going to make it.' "
State troopers said the driver of the 2005 Buick, Michelle Randolph, was injured.
Corley said Randolph was taken to Huntsville Hospital by ambulance after Lacey's Spring firefighters and a Samaritan Ambulance crew arrived and helped pull her from the water. A Huntsville Hospital spokeswoman said she had no listing for Randolph.
"She was in terrible pain and scared to death," Corley said.
Corley said the woman complained of pain in both knees, her back and left shoulder. She appeared to be bleeding, possibly from her head, which Corley said may have struck her driver side window, which was shattered.
"When I was able to take my feet and (force) one of the doors open, the water came rushing in and it scared her," Corley said. "I kept telling her, 'I'm not going to leave you no matter what it takes, and everything is going to be OK.' The good Lord saw us both through it."
Fortunately, response was quick because so many people were already in the area to take part in the search, he said.
Afterward, Corley dried off in the back of an ambulance and went home to change clothes before rejoining the search for Payne.
"Every joint I've got is aching," Corley said.
Corley said officers set up a command post and the area near Payne's home was swept by deputies, dogs and a helicopter. But Payne had not been found as of 6 p.m.
Some of the searchers were retiring for the day, Corley said.
"Some will come back in the morning. We'll be keeping some extras out here tonight, keeping the command post going for anything that comes in," he said.
Sheriff's Lt. Terry Kelly said Payne has dementia.
Kelly said Payne has white hair, blue eyes, a fair complexion and is 5 feet, 10 inches tall and weighs 175 pounds.
"He is supposedly wearing a black jacket, black pants, black dress shoes and a dark T-shirt," Kelly said. "He also may have two Shih Tzu dogs with him. Apparently, he is on foot. He tells people he's 47 if asked."
Kelly said Payne has wandered away from the home on two previous occasions. Corley said Payne is originally from Texas and moved to the area about three years ago to be near relatives.
Copyright 2013 - The Decatur Daily, Ala.
McClatchy-Tribune News Service