A couple years ago, Matt Murray and Austin Corley were both carefree students at Franklin County High School, not sure what the future would hold.
A couple months ago, that future took hold of them suddenly and forefully, bringing them together in an urgent, life-saving moment.
On Dec. 10, a little over two months after Corley nearly lost his life in an early morning one-car accident at the foot of the St. George Island bridge, Sheriff A. J. Smith presented Murray with a Life Saver Award, for the deputy’ quick-thinking actions that kept Corley breathing and able to survive until he could begin a remarkable recovery.
At about 12:41 a.m. on Oct. 7, Corley’s 2012 Ford Fusion, coming off the bridge into Eastpoint, veered on to the east shoulder and struck a guardrail, sign and two trees. Both the 21-year-old driver and his passenger, John Hardy “JJ” Golden, 26, both of Eastpoint, suffered serious injuries.
Murray was dispatched to the crash. “It’s a small town so when you hear traffic crash come over the radio, your mind always goes to the worst. It could be your family and your heart sinks,” he said.
Murray determined quickly that his former classmate was in peril of losing his life. “When I arrived on scene, he was barely breathing and had no pulse,” he said.
The young deputy immediately began administering life-saving efforts, resuscitating Corley so he would stand a chance of survival after being rushed to Bay Medical Center..
“I heard him on the radio, I remember it, ‘I got an unresponsive subject and I’ll be initiating CPR’, so without hesitation, he did what he needed to do,” said Sgt. Gene Anderson.
Golden underwent surgery to repair bones in his neck, and was able to walk out of Bay within a few days.
Corley’s recovery took a while, though, but he defied hospital predictions that he would have a long, arduous time in a rehab facility.
“Austin is doing really good,” said his dad, Don, in an interview this week. “He doesn't need physical therapy or occupational therapy.
“He is physically very close to 100 percent, he is just working on strength,” said dad. “At this point his short-term memory is a little foggy; he remembers some things from the past year but some things he doesn't recall at all.
“He does understand the second chance he got, and that Matt is a huge part of the reason that Austin is still here, even though Matt himself refuses to take any of the credit like the man he is,” said Don Corley. “He just gives all the glory to God and says God just used him to help save Austin.
“My family and Austin are forever grateful for Matt and what he did for us,” he said. “Not only did he save Austin’s life, but he also saved me and my wife, and mother, father and grandmother, and all the other family and friends Austin has.
“That sad empty feeling you get when you think of someone who isn't here anymore but wish they were? Because of Matt we don’t have to feel that this Christmas,” said Don Corley. “We had something to really be thankful for at Thanksgiving.
“There's just no way to ever tell Matt thank you enough, or no way I could ever tell him as many times as he needs to hear it,” he said. “But I'll live my life a different way than I was living in, to try to be as great of a man as Matt is.
“We love him like family until the end of our days,” said Corley.