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Ashe native honored by governor

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Ashe native Reggie Barker is awarded the Governor’s Award for Excellence in November for his part in the rescue of a man trapped in the surging waters of the Cape Fear River in May.

Originally published: Jan. 2
Last modified: Jan. 2

Adam Orr

Ashe native Reggie Barker was awarded the Governor’s Award for Excellence in November for his part in the rescue of a man trapped in the surging waters of the Cape Fear River in May.

“The river was as bad as I’ve ever seen it,” Barker, a sergeant with the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission in Chatham and Lee Counties, said Friday. “We were ending our day getting ready to go home when we got the call that there was trouble on the Cape Fear.”

A family had been swept down the river while kayaking that afternoon, Barker said, after more than five inches of rain had turned the river into a raging torrent.

The mother and father had been found, but their 18-year old son was missing when Barker, and master officers Richard Rains and Claude Smith got to the river after midnight.

“There was still a lot of mist from the rain,” Rains said. “It’d tapered off a lot, but when we got on the water it got windy.”

As the primary law enforcement agency on the state’s waterways, Barker said the years spent on the water were vital in accomplishing the rescue.

“We spend a lot of time in the boat,” Barker said, “and with the conditions what they were, we were really the only ones with the expertise and the confidence a put a boat out that night.”

The trio’s efforts were rewarded when the man was located in the middle of the Cape Fear, more than a mile downstream from where the family had entered the river, draped over tree limbs.

“The victim had been in the water for about an hour and a half, and we were worried that maybe some hypothermia was getting ready to set in,” Rains said.

“He was hanging on for dear life,” Smith said. “But we got him on back to the bank and he was good.”

As the highest honor that can be bestowed on a state employee, the Governor’s Award for Excellence, Gov. Pat McCrory said during a ceremony on Nov. 19 that award recipients epitomize the best in public service.

“Going the extra mile is something they do every day, whether they are in the office, in the field and, when required, when they’re off duty,” McCrory said. “We’re fortunate they have chosen to work for the people of North Carolina.”

Barker said it was nice to be recognized for doing his job.

“We do stuff like that all the time, and that’s one of the neat things about job; we’re always doing something different,” Barker said.

N.C. Wildlife Commission Chief Col. Dale Caveny said he was proud that two of this year’s 14 awards went to wildlife officers.

“Their efforts epitomize the core values of our division — to serve with professionalism, dedication, integrity, trustworthiness and fairness — and are representative of the efforts of this agency,” Caveny said. “The wildlife commission hires men and women who not only work hard while on duty, but have an impact in our communities both on and off the job.”

Barker, who was born and raised in Ashe County, graduated from Northwest Ashe High School in 1987 and later served in the U.S. Army until 1990. He joined the WRC in 1992.
For more information and stories, see Ashe Mountain Times.