Levy Court Honors South Bowers Assistant Chief, Friend For Actions At MurderKill River

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At its July 28, 2020, Combined Business and Committee Meetings, Levy Court Commissioners formally thanked two local heroes who saved the lives of two in the Delaware Bay.

Mike Hignutt, Assistant Chief of the South Bowers Fire Company and his friend Timothy Burton Smith were fishing when they heard cries of distress from four individuals who had entered the water and got caught in the bay’s powerful current.

They were able to save two lives; the other two were defeated by the strong and forceful current off the shores of South Bowers, Delaware. Chief Colin Faulkner of the Department of Public Safety presented his recommendation to the Commissioners to award Hignutt and Smith the Kent County Life Saving Awards and Medals for their act of heroism, without regard for their own safety, to affect a dangerous rescue in a body of water known for its extremely powerful current.  The recommendations were unanimously approved.

While Smith couldn’t make the presentation, Hignutt accepted the awards for both, with support from his colleagues from the Fire Company, president Joseph Yonker, and chief Robbie Johnson. Commissioner Eric Buckson stated, “I’m enjoying this if just for the moment… What’s impressive to me is because you’re familiar with that water, you knew the danger of that water.

It wasn’t just your flat-water, calm situation with folks that didn’t know how to swim”. “And to jump regardless, knowing the risks, says a lot about your character, your bravery, and I appreciate the opportunity to be able to say that to your face.” As there was no guarantee that deputy chief Hignutt and Mr. Smith would have been successful in their rescue attempts, and yet, every possibility that when confronting panicked individuals, they too, could become victims.

Commissioner Terry Pepper expressed his deep gratitude for the two taking matters in their own hands and doing what they could to save as many people as possible. “We’re really proud of you not only as a Kent Countian, but as a member of the fire service in South Bowers. And I know they’re proud of you as well,” said Pepper. “We’re proud to present this metal to you. Please wear it with pride and honor because we know you deserve it.” Hignutt, filled with joy expressed this thanks and appreciation, closing with, “It’s an honor to be part of this. I appreciate it”.

Photo: Marcia Banks

South Bowers Beach – On June 30, 2020, at 2:59 p.m., the Delaware State Police responded to the Muderkill River/South Bowers area for a report of two swimmers that had been carried away by the strong water currents.

The investigation revealed that 21-year-old Kevin George Jr. of Philadelphia, his brother, 20-year-old Zion George of Tennessee, a 20-year-old female from Philadelphia, and a 20-year-old male from Philadelphia all traveled to the South Bowers Beach area together for a day trip at approximately 2:00 p.m.

The three males entered the water in the Delaware Bay to go swimming during low tide conditions. As they were in the water, the tide changed, and the strong current pulled all three into the Murderkill River. During this time, the Assistant Chief of South Bowers Beach Fire Department Michael Hignutt and his cousin, Timothy Smith, were fishing in the area and heard cries for help.

Both Hignutt and Smith entered the water in an attempt to rescue the swimmers. Hignutt successfully rescued the 20-year-old male to shore and discovered the female had now entered the water to try and save the other two individuals. The female was then pulled out by the current, and Hignutt successfully rescued her.

Kevin and Zion were unable to be located, and multiple police, fire departments, maritime, and Emergency Medical Service agencies responded to the scene and conducted a search and rescue operation. As of 9:00 p.m., the brothers were unable to be located, and the search efforts were suspended until 9:00 a.m. on July 1, 2020.

At approximately 9:00 a.m., the operation turned into a search and recovery mission for Kevin and Zion. At approximately 10:30 a.m., Kevin was located in the Murderkill River in close proximity to where he was last seen. At 10:45 a.m., Zion was located in the same general area.

The multi-agency operation included crews from:
South Bowers Beach Volunteer Fire Department, Bowers Beach Volunteer Fire Department, Frederica Volunteer Fire Department, Magnolia Volunteer Fire Department, Little Creek Volunteer Fire Department, Leipsic Volunteer Fire Department, Milford Volunteer Fire Department, Volunteer Fire Departments from New Castle County, Volunteer Scuba Diving Teams from Sussex County Volunteer Fire Departments, United States Coast Guard, Kent County Paramedics, a Dive Team from Wicomico County, Maryland.

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