Wet and cold, couple survives terrifying ordeal at Haskins Fordg ordeal at Haskins Ford
In the foggy darkness, the water didn’t look deep, even to overly cautious Mary Treece.
“I’m the one who always says, ‘No! Don’t go across that water.’ So for me to say there wasn’t that much water, you know there really wasn’t much,” Treece said last week, describing a harrowing incident at Haskins Ford late on Nov. 23 when the 2010 Dodge Journey she and husband, Franklin, were riding in floated off the crossing into deep water.
“It was so dark. The car was floating. I said, ‘Oh my God! What do we do?’” Treece said.
Her husband pushed open the door, grabbed his wife and pulled her out.
“By the time we got out, only the rear corner was sticking up out of the water. We both went underwater,” she said. “I’ve heard people say that when you hit cold water, you just don’t know what to do, and it’s true. I couldn’t think. And then my husband yelled, ‘Swim!’”
They swam “forever” through the dark, deep, freezing-cold water, Treece said. “And then we were standing there on the bank, in shock.”
Their car had floated into Bull Shoals Lake where the Little North Fork River flows into it northeast of Isabella. Treece said there was heavy fog in the area that night, and they didn’t see signs warning them of the submerged crossing.
“I had my phone in my hand when we went into the water, and I held onto it while I was swimming. When we got to shore, I didn’t even realize I still had it in my hand, but my husband had seen it lighting up as I was swimming. He said, ‘Your phone! Call somebody.’”
Miraculously, despite her cell phone getting soaked, it still worked. Instinctively, her first call was to the babysitters who were watching their blended family of seven children, ages 2 to 12. The babysitters called her parents, Stephanie and Dennis Simpson, who live next door to them off Highway 5 north of Gainesville. At 12:26 a.m. Sunday, Stephanie called 911. Then Treece called Justin and Patricia Wille, the friends whose home they had been heading to. “We’d been in Gainesville and were going to their house at the end of D Highway. I knew it was closer to go through Haskins Ford than to go up 5 to 95 to D. I said, ‘Let’s go that way,’ not even thinking,” said Treece, 35, who has lived in Ozark County since she was 9 and is a 2003 graduate of Gainesville High School. Franklin Treece, 40, is from Indiana.
After swimming to shore, the couple stood there “probably 30 to 45 minutes, freezing and screaming for help,” Treece said.
Justin Wille was the first to arrive. “He put us in his car, and then the first responders got there and they were trying to help make sure we were warm,” she said.
Next to arrive was the Ozark County Ambulance crew. “They did amazing,” Treece said. “They were so nice. They were just amazing. They stripped us and helped us try to get warm, but they were having a hard time getting our temperatures. They couldn’t get a reading,” she said.
Air Evac was dispatched; one helicopter arrived, and another was in route when the couple finally felt warm enough to function. So the air ambulances were canceled, and the Ozark County Ambulance crew also left when the couple assured them they were all right. Treece’s parents took the couple home to their kids, who by then were sleeping and unaware of their parents’ close brush with death.
“I was never so happy to see those kids in my life,” Treece said. “Going through something like that really gives you a greater appreciation for your loved ones.”
The babysitters stayed overnight and made breakfast for the family the next morning. “I was just so glad we were alive and able to see them. I kept kissing them and kissing them,” she said.
Surviving the incident gave Thanksgiving extra meaning for the couple. But the loss of their only working vehicle was a setback, especially since Franklin was recently laid off from his job and Mary, who had worked at Bullseye as a manager for quite a while, had given up that job to stay home with their children several months earlier. Also, in their tough times, they had let their car insurance lapse, she said. They do have another vehicle, but it needs work and isn’t currently running.
Ozark County Western District Commissioner Greg Donley said that, earlier this year, the county had installed signs about a quarter-mile from both ends of Haskins Ford. The signs can be flipped up when no warning is necessary. But since Bull Shoals Lake has been higher than usual most of this year, the sign has been open to say, “Danger: High water ahead,” Donley said.
“The lake’s been there since 1952,” Donley said. “We’ve made it all these years just fine, and then lately, people can’t figure out that if there’s water over the road, they shouldn’t cross it. Before, there was no sign. People just knew, ‘If the lake’s up, you don’t drive across it.’”
Early on the morning of Feb. 21, Casey Dawn Shelton, her 6-month-old baby Chaseton and her roommate Richard Corn survived a similar incident when Corn drove their Chrysler LeBaron into the water covering Haskins Ford and the car floated downstream. Like the Treeces, the couple swam to shore, carrying the 6-month-old baby and a small dog that was also riding in the car. With no phone, they spent about three hours on the bank in February’s 30-degree weather waiting for a car to come along. Finally, Dan Donley spotted them while he was out checking on his cattle. Shelton and Chaseton were transported to Mercy Hospital by Air Evac; Corn was transported by ambulance. All three recovered from their ordeal.
In February 2013, former Thornfield residents Pam and Charles Stoker, drove a Toyota Scion into water covering Haskins Ford and were swept about 50 yards downstream. They managed to climb out of the vehicle and onto its roof, where Pam called 911 on her cell phone. By the time Missouri State Highway Patrol Water Division officers rescued them by boat about two hours after they went into the water, nearly 40 people – friends and first responders – had gathered on the shore of the lake, watching helplessly because the current was too strong for swimming and the bank was too muddy to launch a boat. The Stokers later moved to Arkansas. Charles Stoker died in December 2017.
MSHP reported Monday that three people drowned Saturday, Nov. 30, in two water-crossing incidents in Bollinger County west of Cape Girardeau. “Two juvenile males” drowned when the vehicle they were riding in traveled into a flooded crossing and “was swept away with all occupants entering the water,” according to the MSHP news release. And a 48-year-old man drowned in Bollinger County when he drove into a different flooded crossing and his vehicle was swept downstream.