Update: This story has been edited to reflect the start and end time of bridge reconstruction and the cost.

 

When Jackson Clark’s flip flop fell in the water near Sunset Grille on March 25, he jumped in after it. Unfortunately, the 10-year-old underestimated the force of the current next to the 7 Mile Bridge. He was swept away, along with his father Doug Clark, who dove in after him. 

“We were alerted to the problem by a man that came running along the sidewalk under the 7 Mile Bridge,” said Landy Rodriguez Perez, who works for a subcontractor on the restoration of the Old Seven MIle Bridge.

Jackson Clark, 10, and his father Doug Clark were pulled out of the water by Landy Rodriguez Perez, left, and Ricky Locklear, second from right, as well as Josh Locklear and Willy Arazola (not pictured). SARA MATTHIS/Keys Weekly

“He was yelling that a little kid was drowning,” said Ricky Locklear, another of the heroes. 

Doug had managed to get his son up onto one of the bridge pilings. Though the little boy was safe, aside from some scrapes and scratches from the rough concrete, Doug was unable to boost himself to safety and was losing his grip. 

Landy got to the ring buoy first, and threw it. Doug passed it to his son, Jackson, and together Landy, Locklear, his brother Josh Locklear and Willy Arrazola pulled the father and son to safety. 

The Clark family of Michigan vacations in the Keys every year. “That’s why we come, the people,” said Erin Clark. SARA MATTHIS/Keys Weekly

“I just want to say thank you. Mom has to say thank you. Can I hug you?” Erin Clark was visibly upset hours later when she was able to thank two of the rescuers in person. “We learned an important lesson today about the current.”

“Yes, we have a new respect for the water,” said Doug.

The Clark family visits the Keys every year at this time (though they missed 2020 due to the pandemic). Besides Jackson, the family has three other children — Aubrey, 13, Shawn, 11 and Adaline, 5.

“This is why we love the Keys and why we keep coming back,” Erin said, “the people are so incredible.”

Jackson Clark presented handmade cards to his rescuers. SARA MATTHIS/Keys Weekly

“If the life ring didn’t work, we would have thrown ourselves into the water. A little boy’s life was at stake,” said Rodriguez Perez, a Marathon native. “It is what anybody would do.”

Erin said that as soon as her son and husband were safe and she had time to collect herself, she called her pastor. Then she set out to find the men who had saved her family so as to thank them in person. 

The four men are employed by one of the subcontractors, Cekra Inc., working to restore the Old 7 Mile Bridge. The bridge is expected to be complete, and open to foot traffic, by March of 2022. The $41 million project began in 2017.

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