2 men honored for saving woman trapped in river after crash

Feb. 25, 2012 at 10:02 p.m.
Updated Feb. 25, 2012 at 8:26 p.m.

Fire Chief Taner Drake, left, with Jason Cude, middle, and Mark Moore, right, at the Public Safety Banquet.

Fire Chief Taner Drake, left, with Jason Cude, middle, and Mark Moore, right, at the Public Safety Banquet.

Jason Cude and Mark Moore emptied their pockets as they rushed down the bank of a creek under a bridge on U.S. Highway 59 South to save a woman submerged in a vehicle.

Cude and Moore were driving into Victoria on Nov. 2 for hunting supplies when they saw cars parked in the middle and along the side of the road in the 5000 block of Southwest Moody Street, also known as U.S. Highway 59. People had gathered, cell phones in hand, looking into the creek.

"We thought they had an accident or car trouble, so we stopped to see if they needed help or something," Cude said.

Ann Kupfernagel, 76 at the time, had been traveling south in the far right lane of U.S. Highway 59 South when a driver in the left lane of highway saw her cross in front of him and across the two northbound lanes before going off the bridge and into the water, said Department of Public Safety Trooper James Vinson, who later investigated the wreck.

As Moore was bringing the truck to a stop, 32-year-old Cude jumped out. From the bridge, where onlookers gawked, Cude could see a gray haired woman still stuck in the vehicle.

"They were just standing there," Cude recalled. "Granted, they were probably calling for help - but in the meantime, she's sitting in the bottom of a creek with her vehicle filling up with water."

Both Moore and Cude rushed down the bank and swam out to the vehicle.

"I'm about 6'2" and the water was up to my armpits. It was that deep," Cude said. "It was stagnant, nasty creek water."

When they arrived at the white Chrysler Town and Country van, it was more than half submerged in the water, passenger side up.

Kupfernagel, the only person inside, was floating in the car with her head barely above water, Cude said.

She was not restrained by a seat belt because of a pre-existing back condition.

"She has a note from the doctors she carries with her all the time, exempting her from wearing a seat belt," said her husband, Gilbert Kupfernagel, 79. "The doctors told us if she had been wearing a seat belt, she would have drowned."

Cude and Moore pried the passenger door open and pulled her out of the water up to her chest while they waited for help to arrive.

"She said she was cold and mentioned needing to go to Citizens. She was having trouble breathing, though," Cude said. "We talked to her, telling her to breathe and stay calm - help is on the way. Your standard 'Be calm' speech, I guess."

Deputies, troopers and firefighters arrived, freed Kupfernagel from the van and put her in a Citizens Air Medical helicopter for transport to Christus Spohn Hospital in Corpus Christi.

Kupfernagel had difficulty breathing as she was pulled from the water on a backboard, officials said. She does not remember anything that happened from the time she lost control of her vehicle about 12:45 on Nov. 2 until she woke up about eight days later.

Doctors told her husband, while she had not broken any bones, she swallowed so much contaminated creek water she was on the verge of drowning.

Kupfernagel said the battle toward recovery has been a long one, but she's still fighting.

She is taking therapy for a stroke doctors told her may have caused the wreck, evidenced by damage in her left arm.

Because of the heroic acts of Cude and Moore, Ann Kupfernagel, now 77, is alive today.

"They saved my life. From what I understand, there were spectators there taking pictures, but these guys saw what was happening and jumped in to save me," Kupfernagel said. "If they had thought twice about it, they may not have done it - but I'm glad they did."

Because they stopped to initiate patient care at a horrific event, Victoria Fire Chief Taner Drake awarded Cude and Moore the Citizen Medal of Honor at the first Public Safety Banquet in honor of the Victoria Police Department and Victoria Fire Department employees. More than 260 people attended the dinner Wednesday.

"If these two gentlemen had not stopped and assisted, this patient would not have survived," Drake said. "They are community heroes and we are proud to honor them with Medal of Honor awards."

The Public Safety Banquet, at the Spring Creek Place Event Center, was to appreciate police and fire departments employees who serve Victoria, said Victoria Police Sgt. Eline Moya.

Victoria Police Chief JJ Craig said, "Chief Drake and I believe this awards banquet is a great way for both public safety departments to celebrate individual accomplishments and highlight the dedicated professionals that serve the citizens of Victoria every day."

The firefighters were nominated by their peers for many of the awards given by the Fire Department, Drake said.

When gratitude is expressed to officers and firefighters, they generally will say they are just doing their jobs, Craig said.

"It is important to recognize the officers and firefighters that many times go above and beyond the call of duty," Craig said.

Drake said it is rare to bestow a Citizens Medal of Honor at the banquet.

"It was such a neat experience for him to get that award and everything," said Moore's wife Beth Moore, 38. "He was just doing what he always does - helping someone out."



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