Red Bank, SC (Paul Kirby) – A 23 year-old Gaston man died early Wednesday after the small truck he was driving left South Lake Drive, overturned, and submerged in Congaree Creek. According to Lexington County Coroner Margaret Fisher, Nicolas Robert Fielding, 23, of Gaston was transported to an area hospital where he was pronounced dead shortly after arriving. For an area resident who has called the land adjacent to the creek home for more than three decades, she said she was shocked to find Fielding’s small truck’s wheels sticking out of the creek. Only a strange twist of fate brought her to stop at the end of her drive and dial 911 when she discovered the crash.
The woman says she’s lived in the same spot years, a place best known by locals as the place Congaree Creek passes under Hwy. 6. It’s only noticeable if you’re watching and see the group of mailboxes bunched together for the homes down the long drive. Even though she’s tried to put things near the highway at the drive’s turnoff before, her husband reminded her when she recently stuck some small reflectors near the pavement's edge that nothing ever stayed there for long. Eventually, someone took or knocked down whatever she had put out by the road. Despite his skepticism, she had stuck the reflectors in the dirt so the turnoff would be easier to see at night. Wednesday morning, she thought about her husband’s words when she saw her reflectors knocked down as she was driving out. Undeterred, she stopped, got out, and inspected the reflectors to see if they could be saved. That’s when she says she noticed someone had, “Missed or straightened the curve out,” because skid marks coming from the pavement ran across the dirt going toward the creek. As she followed the tire tracks with her eyes, she saw the bottom of the vehicle, its wheels sticking out of the water. It only took her a second to realize what she was seeing and dial 911. It was just about 7:00 a.m.
When the 911 dispatcher answered, she first gave the location as rural residents have for years, by landmark. She told the dispatcher on the phone a vehicle was upside down in Congaree Creek. Although years ago, many emergencies were called in this way, today dispatchers need an address for their computer aided systems. When pressed, she quickly gave her own address since she was standing in her drive beside the creek. She waited for emergency responders to arrive and dutifully answered calls from a dispatcher and a trooper when there was confusion about where she was. She gave her own address again and eventually heard sirens approaching.
The woman says that when the first responders arrived, it was amazing to watch them swing into action. “The first responders were absolutely great,” she said Wednesday afternoon. “It seemed like they were here just a second then they had people in that creek pulling the man from the truck.” To her, the rest was pretty much a blur. The young man’s limp body was put into an ambulance that sped away. She said rescuers again checked the little truck and the creek to make sure no one else was trapped or missing. “They really did a good job. I was very impressed with how they handled this whole thing.”
Things only slowed down after the ambulance left and a wrecker pulled the truck from the creek. “It was a small truck, a Ford Ranger I think, and it was all torn up when they pulled it out.” She wondered how long the truck and the young man had been in the creek, how many cars zipped by on South Lake Drive, before she stopped to stand her reflectors up again. She also thought about all the wrecks she’d seen in the curve right there at the creek on the highway that gets busier each day. “Of all the wrecks over the years, it’s a wonder more people haven’t actually ended up in the creek,” she said.
Troopers say that Fielding’s truck was travelling east when he dropped off the road, struck a drainage culvert, and then flipped upside down in the creek. It might never be known what caused that to happen.