The Indian Waters Council of the Boy Scouts of America presented scouting’s highest award for lifesaving to one of its own—Eagle Scout Joseph Pope of Columbia.
On January 21, Pope received the Honor Medal With Crossed Palms, which is awarded only in exceptional cases in which a youth member or adult leader has demonstrated unusual heroism and extraordinary skill in saving a life at extreme risk to self. Since the award was created 100 years ago, only 277 of these medals have been awarded nationally (out of a population of 160,000,000 youths and adult leaders over the years).
The medal recognizes what Pope and his friend Charles Segars did in the wee hours of September 2, 2023.
Pope and Segars are juniors at Clemson University, where Pope majors in mechanical engineering and Segars in forestry. They had been visiting friends and were almost back to their apartment in Segars’s truck at about 1 a.m., when they saw a local bus stopped on the side of the road with its hazard lights blinking.
At first they didn’t notice the car that had run off the road at the Tshaped intersection of Cherry Road and Old Stone Church Road. Its lights were out. When they spotted it, they thought at first that it had been abandoned there. Then, they saw smoke coming from it.
As the bus driver called for emergency services, Pope went immediately to the wrecked car. He couldn’t see inside for the smoke, but when he knocked on the driver’s window, he heard moaning.
“People are in the car!” he called to Segars, asking him to bring something that could break the safety glass. “I had a hammer in the truck,” said Segars. “I gave it to Joseph, and he broke the window.”
Inside, they found an incapacitated driver, and together, they dragged him out, with Pope cutting his arm in the process (which later required five stitches). They still couldn’t see for the smoke and airbags, so they asked the driver whether anyone else was in the vehicle. “He mumbled that there was another person in the car,” remembers Pope. “I opened the backseat,” and he could see that in the front passenger seat, “there was a girl laying across the console.”
And at this point, flames were coming from the front of the car.
The two young men raced around to the passenger window and broke that as well. With the help of a passenger from the bus, they “dragged her out onto the grass.” By this time, the vehicle was becoming overwhelmed with flames.
They had placed her on the ground and positioned themselves so Segars could check her pulse while Joseph was ready to start CPR if her pulse stopped.
“She was unconscious but still breathing,” Segars said of Sophia Vega, a sophomore biochemistry major at Clemson.
“Charles found a pulse,” says Pope, and initially, so did the emergency workers who were just arriving. “Then they lost it.”
EMS workers managed to revive her and then flew her to Greenville Memorial Hospital. The Tiger at Clemson reported that “the car’s passenger side took the brunt of the hit, causing Vega to break her leg, ankle, shoulder ,and spine.” Also, the seat belt caused serious internal injury.
Nevertheless, she was there, with a cast on her leg, to thank her rescuers when Pope and Segars received the police department’s Life- Saving Award during a Clemson City Council meeting November 6.
“The swift actions of Mr. Pope and Mr. Segars in this situation no doubt contributed to saving the lives of two individuals who were unable to extract themselves from a vehicle that had caught fire, all while exposing themselves to significant risk of personal injury,” Clemson University Chief of Police Gregory G. Mullen wrote in a letter to Pope’s scoutmaster. He added that their actions “warrant special recognition of their outstanding character, unusual heroism, and courage in service to their fellow citizens.”
On January 21, Pope was honored by his troop (and will be again at the Indian Waters Council Banquet in Sumter February 25). Although he is 21 and became an Eagle Scout long ago, he remains eligible for the medal. Since then he has participated in the Venture Scouts program and has been a counselor at the Council’s Camp Barstow for several summers. And although he is not a Scout, fellow hero Segars was recognized as well.
“Joseph has been a Scout through and through his whole life,” says Doug Stone, the Indian Waters Council Scout executive. Stone said he is thrilled to see the way Joseph has demonstrated what Boy Scout training can enable someone to do. “He just knew what to do and had the courage to do it.”
Flynn Bowie, scoutmaster of Troop 10, the Eastminster Presbyterian Church troop to which Pope belongs, agrees.
“It’s extremely gratifying to see a young man demonstrate scouting’s principles of helpfulness, kindness, and bravery and use the skills he has learned to preserve the lives of two people,” said Bowie. “I am extremely proud of Joseph and Charles as well.”
For their own part, the young men play down their own heroism. Asked about the reports that professional first responders were amazed to see they had pulled an unconscious young woman from a car being consumed with flames, Segars simply said, “Yessir, that’s what they made it sound like.”
“I don’t think I did anything special,” said Pope. “I‘m just glad God put Charles and me in a position to be able to help,” and that those involved “were able to recover.”