HARTSELLE — Lt. Linda Fox doesn’t consider herself a hero or the actions she took on July 18 as heroic.
“Any officer in this department would have done the same thing,” she said about the Hartselle Police Department.
That may be true, but Police Chief Justin Barley disagrees with her assessment of her actions.
Without hesitation, Fox, 49, rescued a woman whose vehicle was partially submerged in fast-moving waters in a ditch near Main and Stewart streets.
City officials will present her with the medal of valor tonight during their 7 p.m. council meeting.
“She could have very well been the first Hartselle officer killed in the line of duty,” Barley said as he watched the dash-cam video of the rescue that led to Fox needing surgery because of a labral tear in her shoulder that she suffered during the incident.
The chief said what stood out immediately on the video was that Fox didn’t hesitate to put herself in what was obviously a dangerous situation.
“She never hesitated and her commitment and dedication to serve was obvious,” Barley said.
Fox, a 22-year veteran of the department, the daughter of a retired Birmingham police officer, said she didn’t think about the danger when she heard a woman beating on her car window and screaming for help.
“You just do what you’re trained to do and I knew I had to get her out of the vehicle,” she said. “I was just doing my job.”
After working several years in investigation, Fox had been back on patrol duty for about a month when an unexpected thunderstorm settled over Hartselle at about 1:30 a.m. She said she drove west on Main Street because she was aware that water normally comes over the road and she wanted motorists to be aware of the danger.
Fox was sitting in her patrol car when someone drove up and told her a vehicle was in the ditch. This wasn’t the first time she had responded to a call about a vehicle being in the 5-foot-deep ditch.
When she got about 20 feet from the vehicle, however, Fox said she heard cries for help. She said she returned to her patrol car to get a hand-held device called a window punch because it was apparent the doors wouldn’t open because they were halfway under water.
Brenda Allen, who was trapped in the vehicle, said she was on her way to work at Hardee's when water across Main Street swept her vehicle off the road and into the ditch.
“I knew I was gonna die,” she said.
Allen said she tried, but couldn’t open the doors.
After learning that a vehicle was in the ditch, Fox said she called a wrecker service as she had before at the same scene.
“I thought I would just wait on the wrecker to get here, but then I heard those desperate screams,” she said.
Fox slipped as she got into the ditch and rushing waters swept her toward the vehicle. She was floating on her back when she reached up with both hands and grabbed the vehicle.
“If she hadn’t grabbed the car, she would have been under the vehicle and probably dead,” Lt. Alan McDearmond said.
Fox said she also propped her feet against something under the vehicle and this stopped her from being sucked into an underground drain system in downtown Hartselle.
She gained her balance and managed to grab a caution sign in the ditch with her left arm and this kept her from behind swept away.
Fox — still dressed in full uniform with rain gear on and her duty weapon to her side — used her free hand to bust the driver’s side window.
“I’m not sure how many times I hit the window,” she said.
Water rushed into the vehicle and was at the steering wheel level, so Allen moved to the back seat.
“I still couldn’t get the door open to get her out of the vehicle,” Fox said. “So, I busted the back window.”
During the entire incident, Fox never let go of the caution sign. Once the waters leveled, she managed to get Allen out of the vehicle and handed her to Officer Lucas Hogan who had arrived at the scene.
“She’s my hero,” Allen said about Fox. “If it wasn’t for her, I’d be dead.”
After getting Allen to safety, Hogan returned and pulled Fox from the waters.
“Lt. Fox did everything without thinking about her own safety,” Barley said.
Fox said she didn’t feel any pain in her shoulder during the rescue, but doctors at Decatur Morgan Hospital told Fox her shoulder likely dislocated several times during the rescue. She also injured her knee from several falls during the rescue.
Fox had shoulder surgery and is now in physical therapy. She isn’t sure when she’ll return to work or when she’ll go back to the ditch where she rescued Allen.
“We’re fortunate to have her in Hartselle,” Barley said.
Fox, who graduated from Hanceville High in 1988, doesn’t remember a time in her life when she didn’t want to be a police officer. The third of four children and youngest of three daughters, she went against her father’s wishes when she entered law enforcement.
“He wanted me to do something different because it’s hard to make a living in law enforcement,” she said, adding that her policeman father sometimes worked three jobs to take care of his family.
But the self-described “tomboy” said she wanted to be like her father, who wouldn’t sign for her to be a military policeman when she joined the Army at age 17.
After seven years away from the area, Fox returned to Alabama and “put in applications everywhere for a job in law enforcement.” She said her father knew chiefs everywhere and persuaded them not to hire her.
Her break came in 1997 when she was working undercover and former Hartselle Police Chief Ferrell Vest asked to meet her.
“I had on a ripped T-shirt, ripped blue jeans, greasy hair and a lot of messy makeup when I met him,” Fox recalled. “I was so embarrassed and knew he would never hire me.”
She was wrong. Because of the job she had done undercover, Vest hired her in August 1997 and sent her to the Police Academy where she graduated in March 1998.
Fox said being in Hartselle has given her the opportunity to do everything she wanted in law enforcement from patrol to special operations and investigations.
She said July 18 was the first time she’s had to rescue someone from danger as an officer.
“This is what I’m trained to do and it’s no big deal,” Fox said.