Kevin Pickerrell ’05, a patrolman with the Louisville Metro Police Department, knows it wasn’t just by chance that he was in the right place at the right time to save a woman from drowning last summer. God played a role in making sure he was available. And he responded as any trained first responder would, he said, wading into the water to render aid. He never expected any accolades for doing his duty, but he is grateful for the Medal of Valor and Distinguished Life Saving Award he received last week.
“It was really nice to get recognized for something that anybody standing there in uniform would have done,” he said. “It’s really nice to be recognized when we don’t do it for awards.”
He saved her because she was in distress and no one else was available, Pickerrell said. He and his trainee had stopped at Cox Park on the river in Louisville to allow the trainee to write a report. The park is in the Fifth District where Pickerrell patrols but not on his beat, which is slightly to the west of the park and is bordered by Mellwood and Zorn avenues, the river, and Payne Street. He was watching the boats on the river from the front passenger seat when he heard someone yell that a woman was drowning.
The woman was using a flyboard, which uses hydropropulsion via a fire hose connected to the base of a Jet Ski and a wakeboard to fly in the air above the river. As she waited for the wake from several boats to calm down, the hose had filled with water and pulled her under despite her lifejacket.
Pickerrell tried to radio for a river rescue crew from Louisville or Jeffersonville, but no one was in the area. So he radioed that he was going in the water. His trainee looked stricken and reminded Pickerrell that he couldn’t swim, a conversation that the two had had previously and Pickerrell had assured him was unlikely to be a necessary skill. Pickerrell instructed him to stay with his gunbelt, and he ran for the water. A fellow officer who had gone through basic training with Pickerrell had heard the call and by now was already headed for the water.
The woman was only a few feet from shore. As the officers waded into the water, the bottom soon changed from rocks to thick, deep mud, and Pickerrell sank immediately to his waist, and his fellow officer thought they may have hit quicksand. Pickerrell maintained traction by keeping one foot on the rocks so that when the other officer pushed the woman toward him, Pickerrell could grab her and get her to shore. He grabbed her in a bear hug, and the woman, who was conscious but not alert, came to and told Pickerrell she was dying, but he reassured her.
“I told her she wasn’t,” Pickerrell said. “I said, ‘No you’re not. Because if you’re dying, I’m dying with you, and you’re not dying today.’”
When he got to the shore, Pickerrell’s sergeant, who had also heard the call, was there waiting and pulled the woman up by her lifejacket. Pickerrell and his fellow officer emerged covered in mud, and Pickerrell had to drive home for a clean uniform – and with an amazing story to tell his wife, Erin (Hayes) Pickerrell ’05. Soon, Pickerrell was back on his shift. A few days later the story made it to the LMPD Facebook page, and then last week, he received the highest award a police officer can receive, the Medal of Valor, at the police department’s 2017 Awards Banquet.
A love for helping others
Pickerrell said it felt good to be recognized for the good that he does, but the smiles and thanks he gets from helping people on a daily basis are great rewards.
“Nobody calls the police when they’re having a good day,” he said. “Everybody calls the police on their worst day.”
As a patrolman, he is typically the first to respond to the scene and has witnessed homicides, car crashes and even a plane crash. The best part of his job is helping those in distress and getting them out of the dangerous situation, he said.
“I’ve been at some horrific scenes, but to be able to see them smile and get out of the situation that they’re in is the most fulfilling part to me,” Pickerrell said.
As for saving the drowning woman, he believes that he was meant to be at Cox Park that day. The park isn’t on his beat, and he doesn’t go there often. But that day, he felt the need to go there, and he knows God used him and his training because if he hadn’t been there, no other patrols or officers were close enough to hear.
“I’m a Catholic, and God plays a role in my life every day,” he said. “I don’t know if God told us to be there, but somebody directed me that something was going to happen. It was kind of a weird experience (upon later reflection). It all happened so fast.”
The path to policing
Pickerrell is in his seventh year as a police officer and is looking forward to many more years helping others. It’s not a job he planned, but he’s glad he was called to it, he said. He remembers talking to his mom, Mary (Goodman) Pickerrell ’68, after graduating from Providence about where he would go to college, a next step expected of all his family. They discussed culinary school because out of his five siblings, he was the one usually in the kitchen cooking alongside his mom. When he said he wasn’t sure if he wanted to work in a restaurant but preferred to be outside, she immediately responded that she didn’t want him to be a police officer.
So Pickerrell graduated from Sullivan University with a culinary degree and started as a line cook at the former Islamorada Fish Company in Bass Pro in Clarksville. Within a few years, he had worked his way up to general manager only to have the restaurant close. He was unsure where to go next, when a friend told him the Clark County Jail was hiring.
He said he fell in love with corrections and knew he wanted a career in law enforcement. He expected his mom to be upset that he was becoming a police officer, but she has been supportive and even asks her first grade students at St. Anthony of Padua in Clarksville to pray for him.
Pickerrell said his faith and the support of his family, especially his wife, help him stay positive and deal with the stress of his job. Although he tries not to let the stress and the things he witnesses affect his home life, some days are tougher than others. On those days, Erin is there with a listening ear and is a willing prayer partner. They’ve prayed more than once for the people he’s encountered on his beat.
“She’s one of a million, that’s for sure,” Pickerrell said. “She’s everything to me, so the stress of the job, when I get home and I get my two kids running to me, it all kinds of fades away, and that’s the reason I’m able to continue doing what I do every day is because of my support staff at home.”
Brothers in blue
Pickerrell also has another listening ear, one who now understands exactly what he’s going through. His youngest brother, Ryan ’13, was inducted into the LMPD police force last year and recently started on solo runs. Kevin said he and Ryan would talk about his police work in the past, and Kevin could tell Ryan was interested, so he wasn’t surprised when his brother applied. Now that his brother is on the force, Kevin said it reminds him of how he first felt.
“He’ll call so happy and so giddy when he helps somebody,” Kevin Pickerrell said. “I can remember when I first started training. Now it’s kind of routine to me to help somebody do something, but to him, I can hear it in his voice how excited and happy he is to be able to help. Being the older brother, it’s kind of cool that he’s following in my path to join me.”
As for their mom, she has a second police officer in her prayers.
“He got the bug, and now mom has two of us,” Pickerrell said.
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