RIPLEY — If not for the heroic actions of Ripley Police Department Corporal Joel Barnett, Cheyenne Kirk may not have been in attendance at Ripley’s Village Council meeting on October 27.
Kirk, then 16-years old, was caught in the rising waters outside her home as Ripley, Georgetown, and many parts of Brown County felt the devastating effects of flash flooding and torrential downpours on the night of July 18.
According to a report in WCPO-TV, Kirk had left her home to try to swim for help as the overflowing waters from Red Oak Creek started making inroads in her house.
But the flood waters were too strong, and after originally holding onto nearby cars and a fence post, the rushing waters pushed her away. She reportedly grabbed onto the siding of a neighbors home, and stayed their for 45 minutes, holding on for dear life. That’s where Barnett found her.
Barnett and Donald Smithe Jr. were the first Ripley police officers to respond to the scene.
“We ran down the street,” Barnett recalled in a phone interview earlier this month. “(Smith) had the radio because I had taken my gun, belt, vest, and boots off so I could swim better. We were getting calls and using our cell phone. We just got word that there was a girl hanging off the side of the house. We made our way to the house and we saw the parents yelling. She was a type-one diabetic and she was in shock. We made our way down the siding and grabbed her and pulled her out.”
Last Tuesday night, with a packed crowd in the audience and Kirk and her parents Tim and Darla in attendance, the village of Ripley honored Barnett and Smithe, and allowed Kirk a moment to thank her rescuers.
Ripley Police Chief Harvey Bowman introduced the policemen to the audience. Smithe’s father Donald Smithe Sr. was in attendance as Smithe Jr. is currently enrolled in the Ohio State Highway Patrol academy.
As Barnett and Smithe Sr. received certificates from Bowman, Kirk came over to Barnett to thank him through tears. As she did, she collapsed into his arms, and the two embraced in an emotional moment for everyone in attendance.
Barnett, Smith, and Kirk were given a standing ovation during their hug and even after.
“The medal of valor is awarded to both these officers for an act which endangers their lives in which they decide to act upon that and save another’s life,” Bowman said at the village council meeting. “Both of them put their lives in danger that night to save her.
“Neither one of the officers bragged about it. Neither one of the officers said they didn’t do more than what they should have done in the line of duty, and that’s more commendable to me as a police officer, that they didn’t go around and brag and want the publicity. They did a heroic act in saving a life, and I know the Kirk family appreciates it.”
Ripley Mayor Tom Leonard then read out a proclamation recognizing the heroism of Barnett and Smithe Jr.
“Whereas the village council wants to commend Barnett and Smith for their rapid response and heroism demonstrated on July 18 for the example they set for the citizens of Ripley,” read a part of the proclamation.
Bowman revealed that the ceremony was organized on the recommendation of village council and a request from the Kirk family.
“When you hear this at three o’clock in the morning, you’ve got two officers wading out in chest-deep water, you kind of wonder, ‘Oh my gosh’,” Bowman said. “They just took their lives in their own hands for someone else.”
Barnett received a second accolade following his honor from the village. Leonard presented Barnett with a plaque for being named the Brown County Law Enforcement Officer of the Year. Barnett was one of five nominees in the county, with all five nominees serving as EMTs and first responders for their departments.