NewsPositively Hampton Roads


‘If I go, you go’ homeowner recounts moment York-Poquoson deputy saved her life

Posted at 1:14 PM, Jun 19, 2018
and last updated 2018-06-19 16:49:14-04

YORK CO., Va. - A woman was saved from a house fire by a deputy who was on duty and now she's talking about the terrifying incident.

The homeowner who was trapped inside spoke only to News 3's Samantha German about how the fire started and what it was like getting out in the nick of time.

If Master Deputy Ben Howlett from the York-Poquson Sheriff’s Office is not on duty he’s usually coaching his little league team on the baseball field.

Fortunately on Saturday around 1:30 p.m. he wasn’t on the field – he was on the clock in the right place at exactly the right time.

"We received a call of a structure fire off of Weston Road, which is right off of Dare Road. I was close in the area, so I responded to the residence. The 911 call dropped and they said the female was evacuating out of the residence," Howlett.

He was there within minutes. But when he arrived, that’s when he ran into a huge problem of finding the homeowner whose house was filling up with thick, black smoke.

Howlett said with the information he received while going to the active fire, he was expecting to see an elderly woman outside of her home in the front yard, but when he arrived on scene there was no one there.

He checked the back and still found no one. That's when he went inside.

"Fortunately, the back door was unlocked, so I came in through the back door. Went into the living room area where I saw an elderly female sitting in the smoke," Howlett said.  "She had a very hard time walking, got out the residence. Told her we needed to get out quickly."

The homeowner, 68-year-old Carolyn Wilburn, didn’t want to show her face on camera but told us she was using her oven to make some steak fries when she went to the bathroom and forgot they were cooking.

"He comes in here and says, 'You got to get out of here.' I said I tried to get out of here but I fell on my butt. I said I'm not too good with them stairs. He about pulled me by the arm sockets so I grabbed his shirt and said, 'If I go, you go.'"

When the fire department and medics arrived on scene, they treated Wilburn immediately. They told Deputy Howlett if he had arrived just one minute later this happy ending could have been an entirely different story.

"I thank you for coming after me, but you've got a hard hold," joked Wilburn. "Thanks a lot for helping."

The right place at the right time all led to this moment of gratitude for saving her life - even if the grip was a little too tight.