Man Rescued From Floodwaters

Bystanders, deputies pull man from SUV in East Verde River


A 68-year-old Payson resident was almost swept away in his SUV by the East Verde River Friday afternoon before being rescued by bystanders and sheriff's deputies.

Merritt Pittman was trying to ford the second crossing on Houston-Mesa Road near Whispering Pines Friday at about 2:30 p.m. when he found himself being swept downriver by raging floodwaters.


Deputies with the Gila County Sheriff's Office helped rescue 68-year-old Payson resident Merritt Pittman from his SUV (stranded in the East Verde River) before his vehicle was swept away by torrential floodwaters, eventually coming to rest downriver among large boulders.

"It's an eerie feeling to be going forward in four-wheel drive, in low gear, and all of a sudden you're going backwards and sideways. You think, ‘Wait a minute -- I didn't put the car in reverse.' And then itits you -- you're floating down the river backwards, with no control,nto deeper water," Pittman said.

"The secondrossing wasery high because it had been raining and snowing all day, but when I got there and scrutinized it, I thought I could make it through. I was wrong, real wrong," Pittman said.

An eyewitness to the scene, Daniel Morris, 18, said he saw Pittman as he started to cross the river on Houston-Mesa Road.

"The water was up to his hood and the guy (Pittman) was still sitting in the cab when I first saw him," Morris said.

"By the time I got there it was up to the roof and I told my friend to go call for help."

Morris said he and his brother, David, waited with Pittman as their friend, Curt Sahlsten, also 18, called 9-1-1.

Morris said the water was rising fast and they decided to try and help Pittman on their own.

Another witness to the scene said shortly thereafter the stream pushed the car about 50 yards downstream where it hung up on some boulders.

By that time, about four other people had come to help and they threw a thin rope to Pittman and told him to tie himself to it and they would haul him across the river, Morris said.


Dick Harpster, chairman of the Beaver Valley Fire District, takes a photo of 68-year-old Payson resident Merritt Pittman's SUV as it is swept down the East Verde River during Friday's rains. Pittman was plucked from the raging river just minutes before this photo was taken.

Pittman tied himself off just as deputies from the Gila County Sheriff's Office arrived.

"He (Pittman) was on the roof of the truck when we got there, with a thin rope tied to his waste," Sgt. Craig Smith, with GCSO said.

Two officers and about seven bystanders got a tow strap and tied it to the rope and had Pittman pull it across and tie it around his waste, Smith added.

"I was thinking I was really stupid. I should just wrap this around my neck instead,"ittman said.

Rescuers had to convince Pittman to jump into the torrential floodwaters before they could pull him across the river to safety, Smith said.

The Beaver Valley Fire Department, U.S. Forest Service and paramedics arrived on the scene as Pittman was being pulled from the rising river.

He was treated and released at the scene.

Pittman's SUV ended up being swept even further downstream where it finally came to rest, nearly on its side, among massive boulders.

Signs on both sides of the crossing warn motorists not to cross when flooded, but Smith said barricades were not up at the time and doubts Pittman will be cited.

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