By Jan Pudlow
Tampa lawyer James P. Hines, Jr., is a good guy to take along on vacation.
For the second time in 11 years while on vacation, Hines happened to be in the right spot at the right time to save someone’s life.
In 1998, while en route to his grandmother’s in Miami before embarking on a vacation in the Bahamas, Hines saw the car in front of him on the Tamiami Trail lose control, flip five times, and bounce into a canal. Holding onto a log, Hines swam out to the sinking car and pulled the driver to safety moments before the car was completely submerged.
This year’s heroics unfolded October 20 on the Hawaiian island of Kauai, where 41-year-old Jim, an estate planning and elder law attorney, and his wife Kristy were celebrating their 15th wedding anniversary.
After driving down a deserted stretch to the last beach on the road, they walked to Polihale Beach, at Kauai’s westernmost point. Dolloped with huge dunes, 17 miles of sugary white sand stretch out as Hawaii’s longest beach. On the northern end of the beach, the breathtaking sight of the dramatic cliffs of Na Pali drop thousands of feet into the ocean.
Here in paradise, Jim and Kristy plop their chairs and towels in the sand and admire the scenery. The ocean is sparkling clear, with huge waves breaking about 150 yards from the beach. There are only a few people on this desolate beach known for fierce currents and no lifeguards.
A husband and wife, with two boys about 8 to 10 years old, happened to set up their chairs nearby. Jim watched the wife walk into the water and then drift further and further out to sea.
“Honey, I don’t know if she’s OK,” Jim tells Kristy.
He heard the woman yell “Help!” and her husband rushed out to her.
“The water was so clear, I could see everything. He reached her, and the next thing I knew she had climbed on his back and is waving,” Jim said.
That’s when Jim realized the couple was in serious trouble.
Grabbing a boogie board, Jim jumped into the water and paddled through huge waves about 200 to 250 feet past the shore.
“When I reached them, the man’s neck was above water and he was kicking. She is hanging onto him and she could barely talk, but said, ‘Please help me.’
“I could see the veins in their necks popping and the fear in their eyes. They were zombies,” Jim recalls.
“I immediately gave the woman the boogie board. She was shocked I gave it up. That’s when I realized how dangerous it was. I could feel the water pushing us,” he said of the powerful rip tide in water at least 30 feet deep.
“We put the wife on the board. She was spent. She was ready to give up. She was completely exhausted. If she had let go, she’d go under.”
Jim instructed the panicked couple to take deep breaths, and ordered the husband to grab the cord in front of the boogie board. Jim got behind kicking as hard as he could against the strong current. Finally, they pushed through the huge waves and made it back to shore.
“People on the beach were breaking down crying,” Jim said.
They were thinking how close two little boys came to being parentless. They realized that calling 911 was futile in such a desolate part of Hawaii.
A local guy came up and called Jim a hero, and relayed that many people have drowned at that very beach. He said in a rip tide, you are supposed to let it take you out and then swim to the left, parallel to shore.
“I had no clue what he was talking about,” said Jim, fueled by adrenalin and the power of a swimmer who had been doing mile laps three days a week at a yacht club as part of his workout with a buddy for the past year.
The rescued husband was at a loss for words except for a big “Thank you,” as he shook Jim’s hand. The wife gave Jim a big hug and plenty of praise.
Kristy — who has lifeguard experience, but only at a tame pool in Indiana — said the danger of the moment finally kicked in afterwards, when she realized there could easily have been three deaths at the beach that day.
She doesn’t believe it was luck or coincidence that put her husband in rescue mode twice while on vacation.
“I think God put us in both those areas at that time,” Kristy said.
“Especially in Hawaii, where there was a fork in the road and we could have gone left or right. We took our boogie boards this time. And this family happened to sit right by us on the beach,” Kristy said of the scene that she believes was divine
She describes her husband as “very humble, very honest, and genuine, with strong character.”
After the rescue, that evening at dinner, Jim said he paused to reflect: “Gosh, I am blessed. My wife is my best friend and I have three beautiful daughters. I did it because it was the right thing to do. I didn’t realize how scary that could have been. I did it because I would hope someone would do the same for my wife and girls.”