From Mike Simmons’ latest book “Stories of Pensacola’s Finest.” Available on Amazon.
Most people know him as the face of the Pensacola Police Department they see on television, discussing the latest hot topic. But many do not know that Mike Wood is the fourth recipient of the Police Department’s Gold Medal of Valor. Here is the story…
“Nothing!” said Mike Wood. “We spent the whole day out there and got nothing!”
It looked like it was going to be an uneventful day when Mike decided to return empty-handed to the ramp after a day of fishing. Oh, well, he loved being out on the water anyway.
Mike is a simple, likable, straight forward guy. He likes what he likes, and it shows. He was born and raised in Kentucky. He worked at Burger King, a gas station and as a tow truck driver. But he knew he wanted to be a police officer, which he achieved when he was hired by the Hopkinsville, KY police department, and eventually became an arson investigator. Life was good.
Mike also has two hobbies. He loves NASCAR. He loves everything about it – driving, building, repairing, following the circuit – everything. He also loves fishing. Maybe it’s better to say this…NASCAR is his passion. Fishing is his hobby.
So, where do people from Kentucky vacation? Florida. After all, the beaches are great! Mike found another home in Pensacola when he visited here. He also met his wife. Mike’s bachelor life was over. He applied for and was hired by the Pensacola Police Department.
May 17, 1998 was a hot day. Temperatures rose to 93 degrees. In the afternoon, Marilyn Morgan, her daughter and friends decided to go wading in the water at the Navy Point boat ramp while her husband was fishing. There were about fourteen people in all. They were having a great time! Ginny Graybiel, one of the all-time favorite reporters from the Pensacola News Journal, reported what happened next.
Marilyn and her 11-year-old daughter, Shakitha Spellman, had never been in that water before. They weren’t aware of the current. Suddenly, it pulled her in deeper water. Marilyn tried to grab Shakitha, but the current was stronger – and neither could swim. Both went under. Struggling to stay afloat and to get air, both frantically called for help. Of the friends around, some couldn’t swim either. Others froze out of fear. A cousin finally dove in and was able to grab Marilyn, but he couldn’t get to Shakitha. Slowly, the little eleven-year-old girl sank to the bottom, unconscious and not breathing.
Mike, about 50 yards away, was pulling his boat in when he heard screaming. When he looked their way, he saw Marilyn pointing to the spot where her daughter was last seen and screaming “She’s under water! She’s under water!”
It had been about three minutes since anyone had seen Shakitha – three minutes under water…it didn’t look good. Mike raced to the spot and dove down, looking for the helpless little girl.
“She could be anywhere,” Mike thought to himself as he was groping for a body. Then…he felt…her arm! Quickly he grabbed the girl’s limp body and took her to shore, where he instructed someone to call for an ambulance. He laid the girl down and checked for signs of life. There was no heartbeat and no breathing. He immediately began performing CPR. He checked for vitals – nothing. Seconds later he checked again – still nothing. It wasn’t looking good. He hoped the ambulance would hurry and get there. A minute later, the child’s heart began beating and she began breathing on her own! Mike stayed with her until EMS personnel arrived. Shakitha was rushed to Sacred Heart Hospital.
Exhausted, Mike finished loading his boat on the trailer and headed home. He had to work the next day.
Monday morning was a typical weekday – busy. At first opportunity, Mike headed for Sacred Heart Hospital to check on Shakitha. She was in critical condition in a drug-induced coma. As a police officer, Mike is supposed to report any incident that he is involved in on his day off, so he let his supervisor know what took place the day before.
When Ginny discovered the identity of the hero officer, she requested to speak to him. In his downplaying, matter-of-fact manner, he relayed the story. Ginny also interviewed Marilyn, who elatedly said “It’s a miracle. God put Michael there. He came out of nowhere.”
On three days later, Shakitha was still in a coma, but recovering well. Mike bought her a giant get well card and signed it.
On July 24, 1998, the Pensacola News Journal reported that Mike had received a heroism medal from the Police and Fireman’s Insurance Association. He was also the fourth recipient of the Pensacola Police Department Gold Medal of Valor.
Makes a city proud.