Wheeles recognized for pulling woman from sinking car


Staff Reports

A state trooper who pulled a Vallonia woman from her sinking car in November of 2019 recently was recognized for his actions.

Sgt. Stephen Wheeles was awarded a Bronze Star during the annual Indiana State Police awards ceremony in Indianapolis.

The Bronze Star is awarded for exceptional meritorious service and heroism displayed in a life threatening situation where a trooper puts his or her life in jeopardy to save the life of another.

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Wheeles, who lives in the Brownstown area and is the Versailles post public information officer, is credited with rescuing Megan Elizabeth Ora Fleetwod from her car on Nov. 22, 2019, after it left the road and went into a pond as she was driving south in the 8700 block of North State Road 11, north of Seymour.

When he received the dispatch, Wheeles was assisting another trooper on the interstate with the reconstruction of an accident that had happened two days earlier.

The 911 call had been made by retired Seymour Firefighter Troy Nichalson, who was driving behind Fleetwood’s silver Hyundai Sonata when it went off the road.

Fleetwood, who was 23 at the time, later said she was having eye issues just before the incident and that someone was watching over her that day.

“I was driving home from work (in Columbus) and my contact started bothering me,” Fleetwood said. “I rubbed my eye, and my contact ended up falling out. I don’t really remember what happened after that. One minute I was on the road and the next I was in the water.”

The 2015 Brownstown Central High School grad, who can’t swim, said everything happened quickly, and she realized what had happened when the water was up to her seat.

“I took swimming lessons as a kid and it didn’t work,” she said. “It was genuine fear. I couldn’t get out. The power windows had already stopped working. It was just panic.”

As the front of the car sank, Fleetwood retreated to the back window of her car.

When Wheeles pulled up to the scene, he took off his equipment belt, took a hammer from Nichalson, jumped into the pond and broke the back window to free Fleetwood. He later said it took one hit, with his hand going right through the glass.

As the two made it back to shore, Seymour Officer Gilbert Carpenter and Sgt. Ryan Huddleston helped the two on shore. Members of the Indiana State Police, Jackson County Sheriff’s Department, and Seymour Fire Department also responded to the scene.

During the rescue, Wheeles suffered injuries to his hand and arm. Both Fleetwood and Wheeles were treated by medical personnel with Jackson County Emergency Medical Services and taken to Schneck Medical Center in Seymour.

Wheeles later said the water was very cold, and that Fleetwood had a lot of physical and mental strength to overcome her situation in the vehicle.

At the hospital, the two realized they knew each other. Wheeles lives in the same area as Fleetwood, and the two had met during a church activity in the past.

Wheeles said the rescue was a team effort by first responders, and that he was just doing his job.

“Hundreds of thousands of people in my situation would have done the same thing,” he said. “It is something we train for and do on a daily basis.”

Several other troopers from the Versailles Post also were recognized during the ceremony.

Sgt. Bryce Harris, Senior Trooper Brent Lykins, and Trooper Robert Jonas were all given Lifesaving Awards for their actions when they responded to a two-vehicle crash on U.S. 31 in southern Bartholomew County in April 2019.

Sgt. Jared Black was given a Lifesaving Award for his actions when he responded to a single vehicle crash in rural Ripley County in August 2020.

{span}The 2019 “Trooper of the District” for the Versailles District was awarded to Senior Trooper Matthew Holley, who leads the Indiana State Police-Area IV Crash Reconstruction Team. {/span}

Due to COVID concerns, not all award recipients received their awards in person at the ceremony held Nov. 20.

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