LUMBERTON — The image of 9-year-old Deonte Smith’s body lying motionless on the bottom of the pool at Sleepy Bear’s RV park is one that his mother says she can’t forget.
“He was balled up like a little fetus inside of the womb,” Nacarsha Taylor said.
Taylor also won’t forget the two strangers who saved her son’s life — 29-year-old Justin Stoyer, and his wife, Tracy, 41, who performed CPR.
“Honestly, I was scared to death that we were going to lose that kid,” Justin said. “I’m glad that I didn’t have to witness a child dying in a pool.”
Justin and Tracy, who usually visit the pool at Sleepy Bear’s at 465 Kenric Road on Saturdays, had delayed their trip to Sunday — the same day that Taylor, her sister Shaqulia Bowens and Bowens’ boyfriend, Andre McKinley, had decided on a whim to take Deonte and about a dozen of his cousins to the pool.
Taylor and her sister were lounging poolside, discussing plans for Deonte’s birthday later this year. McKinley, whom Deonte considers an uncle, was in the pool with the children.
Taylor said she remembers screams of “Where’s Deonte?” coming from the group of children before jumping up from her chair and seeing her son lying beneath 8 feet of water in the pool’s deep end.
Justin and Tracy had exited the pool and were ready to head their Lumberton home when they heard the screams.
“I jumped in,” Justin said. “I opened my eyes under water, scooped him up with my left arm, and went to the surface … it was a reaction more than anything.”
Tracy and McKinley pulled Smith, who was unconscious, out of the water.
“I felt like I was going crazy,” Taylor said. “I was panicking. I really didn’t know what to do. My mind was just gone.”
Justin, who had not practiced CPR since earning his first-aid merit badge as a Boy Scout, performed respirations while Tracy, who had not practiced CPR in 11 years, did chest compressions.
After what Justin says was about three minutes, Tracy felt life come back into the boy’s skinny chest.
“When his heart started beating, I felt it,” she said, her voice breaking. “It felt really good.”
“She stopped with chest compressions, but I couldn’t hear any air coming, so I stopped when he started coughing,” Justin said.
“When he came to, he was very disoriented,” Tracy said. “All the kids that were with him were screaming and crying, and the adults were screaming and crying.”
“I held my son and I sat in a pool of water and cried to him,” Taylor said. “I did not let him go until Mr. Justin said I had to let him go so that he could get some fresh air.”
Tracy and her husband were the only two people at the pool, which does not have a lifeguard on duty, who know CPR.
“I’m glad we were there,” she said. “If we had left 10 minutes earlier, it might have had a different ending.”
Deonte was taken by ambulance to Southeastern Regional Medical Center, and was later transferred to Cape Fear Valley hospital for continued oxygen therapy. He was released the next day.
Deonte said he remembers trying to out-swim a friend, and then nothing until Justin carried him to a poolside chair.
“I was swimming to the rope and I couldn’t, and I went deeper and deeper inside the water,” Deonte said. “I kept trying to get higher and higher to get to where I could breathe but I couldn’t, and I just kept sinking deeper.”
Taylor said Deonte, a fourth-grader, can swim a little, but not enough to be in 8 feet of water. She said the trip to Sleepy Bears, which was Deonte’s first visit to an in-ground pool, may be his last for a long time.
“He doesn’t want to go near water anytime soon,” she said.
Justin said that what will stick in his mind is speaking with Deonte on the day he was released from the hospital.
“The coolest thing about it is he got on the phone and thanked both my wife and I,” Justin said. “’Thank you for saving my life.’ Those were his exact words. It was wonderful to hear.”