When there's trouble, Cpl. Joey Patsourakos of the Williston Police Department wants to be there to help. It doesn't matter if the 44-year-old lawman, who commutes to his job from his home in Aiken, is on duty or off duty.
“He's a hero; there is no other word to describe him,” said Lynette Corder in an interview on Monday afternoon.
Late on Aug. 31, Corder's 26-year-old son, Tommy Chambers, lost control of the pickup he was driving and the truck ended up upside down in a pond. Patsourakos jumped in and pulled Chambers out of the vehicle
“If that man had not been there at that time, my son would not be here today,” Corder said.
While Chambers was traveling through Barnwell County, Patsourakos was working a quiet night shift at the Williston Police Department's headquarters and watching the Clemson-Georgia football game on television. As midnight approached, chatter on a police radio caught Patsourakos' attention. There was a report of an overturned vehicle southeast of town.
A Barnwell County Sheriff's Office deputy had responded, “but when I heard the call and it was so close to Williston,” Patsourakos said, “I thought, 'Heck, I'm going to go ahead and go out there because there's a vehicle in a pond. That deputy is going to need some help with traffic or whatever.'”
Several deputies were on the scene when Patsourakos arrived. He asked them if someone had checked to see if anybody was in the truck. They said no.
“I was like, 'Holy crap, you've got to be kidding,'” Patsourakos remembered.
The Williston policeman quickly took off his gun belt, his shoes, his uniform shirt and his tactical vest. Then he got into the pond and headed to the truck.
Patsourakos dove underwater and entered the vehicle's cab through the driver's side front window.
“It was either open or busted out; I don't know which,” he said.
Once inside, Patsourakos was able to breathe for a while in a small pocket of trapped air.
He looked around and searched using his hands. But the front seat was empty, so he exited the truck
“I started thinking that I needed to look in the backseat, too,” said Patsourakos, so he shone his flashlight through a back passenger door window. That's when he spotted hair and what looked like a kneecap.
“I took my flashlight and I had to swing it eight or nine times to break the window,” Patsourakos said. “Then I went up in there and grabbed the man and pulled him out.”
Chambers wasn't moving when Patsourakos found him, but appeared to be semiconscious before the policeman got him to dry land.
Chambers later described the experience on his Facebook page, recalling that he thought he was having a nightmare when he found himself underwater. He worked frantically to get his seatbelt unfastened and succeeded.
But “although I was free from my seatbelt,” Chambers wrote, “I dreamed that no matter where my hands felt, I couldn't find a way out from the underwater black hole I was inside of. I decided there was nothing more I could do except sit there, underwater, and accept my fate of death.”
Chambers, who lives in Charlotte, N.C., was in South Carolina visiting his mother when the accident occurred. Corder said her son was resting and still recovering on Monday, but was never hospitalized.
In his Facebook post, Chambers called Patsourakos his “guardian angel.”
Patsourakos' assessment of his role in the incident was more modest.
“I feel like it's just part of my job,” he said. “All my life, it's what I've been doing. I've been in the fire service and worked for EMS and law enforcement. It's what I do; it's who I am.”
Patsourakos is married and has four sons.
In 2011, while camping with his family and teaching a concealed weapons class in Colleton County, Patosourakos heard on his police radio that a felon who had escaped custody had been sighted nearby. Patsourakos rushed to a remote area in his pickup and single-handedly apprehended the man with the aid of an M4 semiautomatic rifle.
“I would be lying if I told you that what my husband does doesn't worry me,” said Tina Patsourakos. “But he has done it for so long and that's who he is. He's very good at what he does, and I just have to have faith that God will watch out for him.”