Liam Cannon’s perspective was different.
He’d been sleeping when his father’s vehicle went off the road. He knew his father and older brother were in the swamp as a flash flood began to swallow the vehicle. He knew it was bad from where he shared the backseat with his 5-year-old brother Levi.
“I was holding him up but he was trying not to talk because he was scared,” the 7-year-old said. “I was trying to bust the glass out and then I had to lift up Levi too. And that’s all.”
“All” was everything.
The incident unfolded around 9 p.m. on Sept. 17 off Cates Bay Highway outside of Conway.
“All” was Horry County Police Officer Adam Tack arriving on the scene, rescuing a woman who had tried to help but was in trouble in the rushing water, tromping back into the water and busting the back window of Cannon’s sport utility vehicle, letting the air pocket escape as the vehicle sunk deeper. Tack dove, groped in the dark water to rescue the boys and maneuver them to their father and older brother clinging to a nearby log.
“All” was interlocking arms waiting for the fire department to pull them to safety.
“I’m glad I was there, right time, right place,” the officer said.
Tack and the Cannon family were reunited for the first time since the rescue as Tack was awarded the 2020 Officer of the Year award from the Coastal Carolina Shields organization on Tuesday.
Coastal Carolina Shields is made of retired law enforcement officers from various agencies spanning the globe.
Standing in front of the applauding group, Tack gripped the glass-etched award and chocked back emotions forcing him to be stingy with his words.
“It was good to be a part of that and seeing they can grow up together and be whole,” he said.
Tack and James Cannon share more than the rescue. They are fathers of boys nearly the same age. Tack’s son Colby is 11. Cannon’s oldest son Landon is 10.
“Yeah, I thought of my family,” Tack said of that night. “The first thing I heard was ‘kids trapped.’ At that point, it’s just blackout mode. You just do what you got to do.”
Tack has been doing what he has to for the county police force since 2018. Before that he served with the 101st Airborne from Fort Campbell, Kentucky, and was an iron worker in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
That September night Tack had been patrolling his beat as the remnants of Hurricane Sally swelled creeks and rivers. He’d stopped his patrol car to work on reports when a car sped up to him and two frantic women told him of a car submerged in a nearby swamp.
Tack arrived on the scene, shed his gun belt and went into the eight to 10 feet of water with his baton and an engraved knife from his wife Brenna.
“She gave it to me when I graduated from the academy,” he said of the tool that cuts seatbelts. “I got myself a truck and she got me a knife.”
He didn’t need the knife that night as the young boys had freed themselves from their seatbelts, but the baton was vital. He said he swung on the back window once, but nothing happened. Thinking of his family, another swing shattered the glass.
“Like we say on shift, if you call Tack, he’s always five minutes from everywhere,” Sgt. Justin Miller said. “He just always seems to be at the right place, at the right time.”
The boys’ father said it had started as a rainy night driving his sons home through a slice of Horry County his family has lived, grown and died in since the 1700s. They were near the section of Cates Bay Highway known as Cannon Hill.
By the time Cannon saw the water over the road it was too late and they had hydroplaned.
“I felt the car get light and at that point I’m realizing we’re in the water,” he said. “I thought I was in a ditch; I didn’t realize I was right there at the swamp.”
He told Landon to get out as they both planned to reach back and grab the younger boys. But the water sucked the two out and under the vehicle. Surfacing, James Cannon put Landon on a log and tried to get his two sons.
“I was screaming my head off thinking I’m watching my kids drown in front of me,” he said after describing praying that God would send someone to help.
A woman tried, but the water was fast moving and she wasn’t able to get to the vehicle.
“Levi wasn’t taking,” Landon said. “I was like, ‘My brother’s dead. Oh my God.’”
Then James Cannon saw the headlights.
“Officer Tack, he came out of nowhere,” the father said. “He just came in that water like it was no, like it was nothing.”
On Tuesday night Cannon clutched a card with Tack’s home number.
Now, Cannon said, they take the long way home avoiding Cates Bay Highway when it rains.
“Driving by swamps that don’t have guardrails, I get a little, I don’t want to say PTSD, but it gives me a little shutter to have to go past any kind of body of water without a guardrail. But, yeah, I have to drive that road every day,” he said. “If he hadn’t been there, it would have been different, you know?”