Retired Captain Mike Wilson was driving on Apex Barbecue Road near Kinship Lane around 3:40 p.m. when he noticed the crashed vehicle, according to police.
“I could tell she needed some help,” he said Thursday. “The water was moving fairly fast.”
The driver, Shannon Clayborne, was able to get out of the car but was stranded on a sandbar in the creek, unable to make it to the shoreline. Wilson went into the frigid water and tried to help her get to shore, but they both went into neck-deep water, police said.
“I know I went under twice,” he said.
They got back on the sandbar, and Wilson picked up Clayborne and tossed her toward the shoreline where another person helped her onto dry land. The other person's name was not released. Wilson then waded back into the creek and briefly went under water while making his way to the shore, police said.
“I kept thinking, did I miss something,” he said. “And I went back a second time to make sure nobody was in the car.”
Apex Police Chief John Letteney praised Wilson’s efforts.
"Captain Wilson immediately recognized the gravity of the situation and, with his training and experience, he knew what to do," he said in a statement. "His actions to help the motorist ensured she was safe as he went into the water to help her get to shore. Captain Wilson instinctively put helping others before his own safety and reflects the highest traditions of the Apex Police Department and the law enforcement profession."
But Wilson gives the credit to others.
“There was another gentleman trying to help me,” he said. “There was a police officer after I got out looking after me. I don’t get all the credit.”
In February, Wilson will receive an award from the town for his efforts.
He retired from the police department in 2010 after serving for 25 years. Since his retirement, he has worked in a reserve capacity with the department and serves as a school resource officer at local elementary schools each morning, police said.