Friends worked to save teen who dove into lake
By Emily Ford
SALISBURY — Thanks to the quick thinking of his friends and CPR skills of a recent Eagle Scout, Gavin Littleton, 15, survived an accident Wednesday night after he dove into shallow water at High Rock Lake.
The rising sophomore at North Rowan High School remains in critical condition at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center with a spinal cord injury.
Littleton was scheduled to undergo surgery today to insert pins into his broken neck, said his grandmother, Karen Littleton.
“We are asking for prayers,” she said. “If love could heal him, he would be home today.”
When Nick Cornacchione earned his livesaving merit badge last year with Boy Scout Troop 401 at Sacred Heart Catholic Church, the East Rowan High School graduate and Eagle Scout said he never thought he would use CPR.
That changed Wednesday night on High Rock Lake.
Littleton, son of Todd and Jennifer Littleton of Salisbury and Gina Littleton of Charlotte, and his friends planned to camp at the lake near the dam. They beached Littleton’s family pontoon boat and went swimming behind the boat.
‘It happened so fast’
While Cornacchione swam to a nearby cove, Littleton and Thomas Tucker climbed onto the boat. Zach Lemmon stayed in the water.
Littleton stood on top of a four-foot-tall swim pad on the boat, the boys said. Tucker said he realized Littleton planned to dive into the water.
“I said, ‘Don’t do this, don’t do this,’ “ Tucker said.
Littleton, an accomplished wrestler and tennis player, intended to make a shallow dive but went straight down, Tucker said.
“He dove too deep,” he said. “As soon as he dove in, I thought, oh my God. This is not good.”
Littleton did not surface.
When Lemmon reached the spot where Littleton entered the lake, he found Littleton unconscious under about three feet of water.
Lemmon pulled Littleton from the muddy bottom and lifted him to Tucker.
“I was worried that it was too shallow for a dive, but it happened so fast,” Lemmon said.
He said Littleton was underwater for less than a minute.
Tucker and Lemmon knew their friend needed help, and they knew Cornacchione was an Eagle Scout trained in CPR.
‘These kids are heroes’
They drove the pontoon to the nearby cove and picked up Cornacchione, who determined Littleton was not breathing and had no pulse.
Cornacchione began CPR. The boys had spotted a fishing boat earlier in the evening, and Tucker drove to find it while Lemmon and friend Dakota Honeycutt called 911.
“We had seen them and knew they had a faster boat,” Tucker said.
The teens pleaded with the family in the fishing boat to help.
“Sir, we need your help. Our friend’s not breathing,” Tucker said he called. “Our friend is about dying.”
A fisherman boarded the pontoon to help Cornacchione try to resuscitate Littleton. Working as a team, the fisherman performed chest compressions while Cornacchione breathed for Littleton.
The teen started coughing and spitting water at one point, Cornacchione said, but never regained the ability to breathe on his own.
They transfered Littleton to the fishing boat. The fisherman and Cornacchione continued CPR as the boat raced to Tamarac Marina, where Liberty Volunteer Fire Department first responders took over.
Littleton was airlifted to Baptist.
“These kids are heroes,” Karen Littleton said. “Their quick thinking and action and working together saved Gavin’s life.”
Littleton said Thursday her grandson was heavily sedated but able to open his eyes and knew family members were in the room.
The Littleton family would like to know the identities of the fishing family who helped save Gavin.
Gavin Littleton played the No. 4 seed on North’s tennis team last year and was projected to wrestle with the varsity team this season at 126 pounds, Coach Tim Pittman said.
“He’s an outgoing kid, always full of energy and very athletic,” said Pittman, who drove Tucker, Lemmon and Cornacchione to Baptist Thursday to support their friend and his family.
The boys recently competed in the Greenway 5K, wearing their wrestling singlets. That was Littleton’s idea.
Cornacchione said when he climbed onto the pontoon and saw Littleton’s limp body, instinct took over.
“I don’t know, I guess my training just kicked in,” said Cornacchione, who earned his Eagle Scout in June 2011.
Training kicks in
While Cornacchione was surprised by his abilities, Scoutmaster Tim Smith was not.
“That’s my Nick,” Smith exclaimed when he heard Cornacchione helped save a life. “I am so proud of him.”
Cornacchione didn’t miss any detail during merit badge instruction, Smith said. Attentive and involved, Cornacchione “listened and took everything in,” Smith said. “He was a great scout.”
In his 20 years as a scoutmaster with more than 60 Eagle Scouts, Smith said this is the first time he’s aware one of his Eagles saved a life with CPR.
His scouts learn the skill every year.
“That’s one thing I just pound into these kids,” Smith said. “Someday, sometime, you’re going to have to save somebody’s life, and you have to be ready and you can’t panic or lose your cool and start screaming, ‘call 911.’
“You are going to have to do it.”
Cornacchione’s someday, sometime came at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, on a pontoon boat in the middle of a lake.
He estimates he performed CPR on his friend for about 20 minutes.
On Thursday, Cornacchione said saving Littleton was a group effort. Each teen played a crucial role, as well as the fishermen.
“I’m just glad he’s OK,” Cornacchione said. “Well, he’s alive.”
Contact reporter Emily Ford at 704-797-4264.