Area native honored for cave rescue

A Seymour native recently received congressional recognition for helping rescue two people lost in a cave in Lawrence County last month.

Indiana Conservation Officer Blake Everhart, who still lives in Jackson County, was honored by U.S. Rep. Trey Hollingsworth during a ceremony at the Lawrence County Sheriff’s Department on Monday for his participation in the Sept. 1 rescue.

Everhart, a Seymour High School graduate, is the son of Bill and Robin Everhart of Seymour. He has been a conservation officer with Indiana Department of Natural Resources Law District 8 for the past 11 years.

Also receiving awards for their efforts in the rescue were Conservation Officers Jim Hash and Ryan Jahn, officers from the Lawrence County Sheriff’s Department and members of the Bloomington Cave Rescue Team.

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About 10:45 a.m. Sept. 1, DNR conservation officers and other responders were notified of a search for a missing person who had entered the Doghill-Donahue Cave system in Bedford.

The Lawrence County Sheriff’s Department had initiated the search for Joshua Patton, 31, of Bedford, after family members were unable to make contact with him since the evening of Aug. 29. Patton had told family members he had planned on entering the cave.

Everhart was one of four who went into the cave around 11:50 a.m. Sept. 1, conducting a search of both the upper “maze” portion of the cave and the lower stream passage.

“When we entered the cave, we were not 100 percent certain that they were in there, let alone where they would be if they were in there,” Everhart said. “It’s one of those calls that you prepare for the worst and hope for the best for the victims and their families.”

Around noon, responders made verbal contact with Patton and a woman, Samantha East, 38, also of Bedford, who had gone into the cave with him. They were located around 2,000 feet inside the cave.

Patton told officers he and East had entered the cave around 6:15 p.m. Aug. 29, using only a cellphone light to negotiate the cave’s passages.

After damaging the phone and losing their light source, they attempted to use cigarette lighters to find their way out but used up all of the fuel in the lighters and had to stop and wait in total darkness.

The two were treated inside the cave for hypothermia, dehydration and exhaustion and after being assisted from the cave were transported to IU Health in Bedford for further evaluation.

“The quick thinking of these 11 individuals saved lives and deserve recognition,” Hollingsworth said.

Everhart said being honored for his part in the rescue never crossed his mind.

“It made me feel humbled and appreciated,” he said. “I was just doing my job.”

As for cave rescues, Everhart said it’s not a situation with which he has a lot of experience.

“We typically respond to lost hikers and hunters statewide, but cave rescues aren’t a typical call that we get here in south central Indiana,” he said.