On the frosty morning of Jan. 9, 2015, Tony Grady and Chris Matos both found themselves in the right place at the right time on John Green Smith Road, a two-lane, winding country road in Deep Run, North Carolina.
Grady watched as a car driving an estimated 200 yards in front of him slid off the road and into a creek. Matos, an off-duty state trooper, had been traveling in the opposite direction but watched the same incident through his rearview mirror. The vehicle carried Maria Chavez and two children, a 14-year-old boy and a baby.
Matos watched as the car began to slide sideways down a small embankment. When the car hit the icy grass on the shoulder, it accelerated and entered the creek headfirst. Matos immediately made his way down to the water.
Meanwhile, Grady had pulled his car over and told his two children, whom he was driving to school, to stay in his truck as he went to help. The roads were so slippery that he fell as he climbed out of the truck. He got up and ran approximately 100 yards to creek. Then he heard a voice he recognized saying, “There’s a baby in the car.”
The voice belonged to Matos. The two attend the same congregation of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and have known each other for over seven years. Matos told Grady that they had to get the family out of the car. Matos waited briefly to make sure the car wouldn’t come down and land on top of him, but then he jumped in without hesitation, breaking through the icy water. Matos struggled to find a way to open the car, but then Grady spotted the young boy’s head. The boy had rolled down one of the windows and was struggling to climb out. Grady immediately climbed into the icy water, carrying the boy safely to the nearby embankment. He then went back and helped Tony get the baby and Chavez safely out of the water.
“Everybody’s like, ‘You’re my hero,’ ” Grady said. “I’m not a hero. Chris and I weren’t heroes. We’re instruments in our Heavenly Father’s hands in a plan that he had to take care of that family.”
Grady and Matos didn't have plans to be there that morning. Matos had just dropped his daughter off at Woodington Middle School and was headed to help someone paint a house when he realized he hadn’t had his usual morning Honey Bun and soda. He decided to make a quick trip down the street to the country store before beginning his painting. It was on his way to the store that he witnessed the car’s dive into the creek.
“There was a reason I was there,” Matos said. “I do believe that God had a part in it. There is not a doubt in my mind."
Grady had just told his 12-year-old daughter that she would have to ride the bus to school when he had a strong feeling that he should drive her.
“There are so many things that happened that are a testament that Heavenly Father is in every one of our lives, and he loves all of his children,” Grady said. “It’s just a testament to me that I was supposed to be there. Ten minutes prior, I had adamantly told my daughter that I wasn’t taking her to school. And then to get the impression, ‘You need to take her to school,’ Heavenly Father put me there. I just know it, and I know that he put Chris there.”
While the events that led the two men to the same road at the same time were unusual, Grady believes they weren't coincidence.
“That’s the Lord’s way of speaking to us,” Grady said. “He didn’t say, 'You need to go down this road because there is a lady getting ready to go into a ditch.' He whispers things to us. and we need to be … keeping ourselves worthy enough to hear the Spirit. That’s not me saying, ‘I’m so worthy.’ It’s just at least I heard that Spirit. It’s a testament to me. I’ll always remember, that’s for sure.”
The two have since been recognized and featured in local media. Matos, who spent approximately eight minutes in the frozen water, has already been recognized by the North Carolina Highway Patrol for his courage but he is also expected to be awarded the Highway Patrol Valor Award in May. His bravery even caught the attention of Governor Pat McCrory.
"What an incredible story out of Lenoir County," Gov. McCrory posted on his Facebook page. "Trooper Chris Matos, with the help of a passing driver, didn’t hesitate to dive into freezing waters to save a family of three after their car crashed into a pond and began to sink. Thank you to Trooper Matos for his bravery and for setting a great example for law enforcement officers across our state."
Still, despite the attention, Matos argues that what he did was nothing extraordinary.
“I don’t consider myself a hero," Matos said. "I really don't. I’m a highway patrolman, and I’m a highway patrolman 24 hours a day, regardless of if I’m working or if I’m not. I just would hope that anyone who witnesses that would’ve done the same thing that I did, and I just hope that when people read this story that they realize you could be put in a situation at any moment where you have to react and make a split-second decision on what you’re going to do.”
While the two men are being praised for the efforts, Grady is convinced that the rescue wasn’t theirs.
“Heavenly Father put us here, to be here at this time, to help with his rescue,” Grady said. “It was all his doing, not ours.”
According to Matos, the two are trying to schedule a time to meet with Chavez. They were unable to communicate the day of the accident because Chavez does not speak English. The Deseret News was unable to reach Chavez for comment.