Heroes save man trapped in a storm

Tom KingBlount, Our Town Heroes

If you’re of a mind to celebrate some heroes today, we’ve got three for you – Devan Teaster, Ryan Olive and Jason Russell. These law enforcement professionals braved a raging, heavy-rain storm, fog, total darkness, mud, bushes, brambles, downed trees and a very steep hill to save an 85-year-old man’s life.

Simply stated, this rescue was a miracle. And it was a miracle they even found him. All in a night’s work. It’s what we do, these humble public servants may say. And many times they say just that.

Teaster and Olive are deputies at the Blount County Sheriff’s Office (BCSO). Russell is an officer at the Townsend Police Department. On August 24 all three were honored by the BCSO with Lifesaving and Law Enforcement Commendations for saving Don Cahill’s life.

The night of July 9, 2022, is one this “team” will never forget, a night that began with a 911 call at 3 a.m. from a Laurel Valley resident who heard someone yelling for help. That led them to a house on Mountain Loft Road in Townsend. Olive was the first to arrive and then Teaster and Russell. They searched the woods there for about 90 minutes but found no one. “It was so bad the night vision goggles would not work,” Teaster said. “We searched for more than an hour – no luck. At times we could hear very faint sounds of ‘help, help, help,’ and then nothing. It was pitch black dark.”

After breaking off that first search, they saw a house up the road with the lights on and a door wide open that was very suspicious. “We cleared the house and ran the tag on the vehicle there and got the resident’s name,” Olive said. “But he was nowhere around. His bed was still made so we assumed he’d been gone for a few hours.”

A few minutes later when he began searching outside, Olive found fresh slide marks at the top of a steep hill behind the home.

Teaster reconstructed the event. “He apparently was disoriented and was walking around behind his house. Ryan (Deputy Olive) found the mudslide track and it appeared he slipped and went down the hill. So, the three of us started down. It was really steep. We had to grab on to limbs and the trees to slow ourselves down and keep from falling and slipping in the mud.

“We could hear someone faintly calling ‘help, help, help’ over and over. We followed the mudslide with flashlights and pushed down the hill. About 300 feet down we found him. He had three trees on top of him. It looked like he slid under the trees. It took all three of us to lift the trees off him and slide him out. His hands were really cold, he was shaking all over, and he had blood all over his arms and legs. Olive crawled back up the hill and brought down blankets that we wrapped him in.”

They alerted other first responders. Then they worked with the Townsend Fire and Rescue team to get him up the hill and to the University of Tennessee Medical Center. The team at the top wrapped a 300-foot rope around a tree for a pull and push operation. They secured Cahill in a sled basket, tied the rope on and as the top team pulled, they pushed up the hill, slipping and sliding all the way. “It was so steep we were pushing dead weight up the hill. It was exhausting. It took us a good 30 minutes to get him to the top, dodging the trees and vegetation,” Olive said.

At some point earlier in the evening Cahill had some kind of a “medical episode” and walked outside into the height of the storm. His daughter, Marie Suglio, was visiting here from her home in Dayton, Ohio, when this happened, but didn’t know about it until the next morning. Today, Cahill is still recovering and has no memory of what happened. No one knows exactly how long he was out in the elements.

As they thought about Cahill’s slide down that steep hill, all three were amazed he had no broken bones, no major injuries and managed not to crash into a tree on his way down the hill.

Teaster is a seven-year BCSO veteran and Olive, who put in three years with the San Diego County Sheriff’s Office, joined BCSO last February after moving to Maryville in December 2021. Russell has worked for the Townsend PD for five years.

“I can’t find the right words to express my feelings properly about what they did in saving my dad’s life. We are beyond grateful,” Suglio said. “Deputy Teaster has called three times checking to see how Dad is doing. He is still mentally and physically trying to recover and he’s slowly starting to eat better and regain some strength.”

She says her father, who has lived in Townsend for 20-plus years, is retired from the U.S. Air Force and is a native of Saltville, Virginia.

“It was a mess out there, almost a nightmare. We still don’t know how long he’d been down there,” Russell said. “I was surprised he still had a voice to yell anything and I’m thankful we could still hear him and that we were able to find him. It was a real team effort working together. It was a great outcome – we went home and he’s alive and safe,” Russell said.

Teaster finally made it home around 9 or 9:30 a.m., covered with mud, scratches and cuts. Exhausted. He walked in his house and his wife, Emily, simply said: “Honey, did you have a rough night?”

His answer: “Does it look like I had a rough night? I’ll tell you all about it after I get a shower and some rest.”

Just another night at the office for these three heroes.

Tom King has been the editor of newspapers in Texas and California and also worked in Tennessee and Georgia.

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