‘My mama said we gotta die’: Men praised for saving children
By Bobby Bryant, Editor
SLED agent and chaplain David Tafaoa of Columbia first saw Laura Ann Breault as she was driving the wrong way on Interstate 20 in Darlington County. Keith Sprinkle of Timmonsville first saw Breault a few minutes later when he went to a Darlington County convenience store near I-20 and the Lamar Highway. She had left I-20 and stopped her car nearby. She was yelling and two children in the car were screaming. Tafaoa and Sprinkle both wound up saving the children — a girl, 8, and a girl, 5 — from Breault, 28, of Mosheim, Tenn., who apparently planned to drown them and herself in a shallow pond nearby. For their roles in the May 17 incident, Tafaoa and Sprinkle were honored last week by the Darlington County Sheriff’s Office. They “displayed what humanity is all about,” Sheriff James Hudson said at a July 8 awards luncheon for Tafaoa and Sprinkle. “The young lady that came to our county needed help – she was lost, and the Lord saw fit to put you two gentlemen there that night to save those kids. … He placed you there for a reason, and it all worked out.” “These gentlemen just happened to be in the right place at the right time,” said sheriff’s Maj. David Young. “They were able to get these two children away from their mother. They prevented what we think would have been a horrible tragedy. We are convinced that if it wasn’t for the actions of these two gentlemen, those two small children would not be with us today.” Young, who was one of the officers at the scene that evening, said Tafaoa and Sprinkle both showed tremendous compassion to the children, taking care of them for two or three hours until the state Department of Social Services could send someone to take temporary custody of the kids. “These two gentlemen were the first people on the scene, and they were the last to leave,” Young said. In an interview, Sprinkle said he had just stopped at the convenience store when Breault’s car “swerved” into view. “She took one of the little girls and ran into the woods,” he said. The other girl stayed near the car, “crying and screaming and yelling.” Sprinkle said he hesitated to get involved by himself, but then Tafaoa drove up. The SLED agent had been returning to Columbia after working in the beach area; he had tried to stop Breault when he spotted her going the wrong way on I-20. He followed her off the interstate. Sprinkle told Tafaoa what he’d seen and they both approached the crying child. “She was looking into the woods, yelling and screaming,” Sprinkle said. He picked her up. “I was like, ‘Baby, what’s wrong? What’s wrong with your mama?’ She was like, ‘My mama said we gotta die.’” Tafaoa took charge of the child and Sprinkle went toward the woods. “Once I got past the tree line, that’s when I saw the lake, and I saw the little girl’s head – I saw her blonde hair on the surface of the water, like she was under the water.” Breault, he said, was trying to drag the child deeper into the pond. “I started yelling and screaming,” Sprinkle said. “I was trying to get the little girl’s attention, yelling and screaming. Then her mother finally let go of her arm. I stepped a little bit into the water. ‘Come on, baby, come on, come on.’ I was like, ‘Your little sister wants you; she’s crying.’ She looked at me and started walking toward me. Once she got a little closer, I just grabbed her.” Breault, meanwhile, “was swimming in that water like she was at Myrtle Beach,” Sprinkle said. “Swimming and yelling and screaming.” Sprinkle said he took the child back to Tafaoa at the vehicles, then local sheriff’s deputies arrived and started trying to get Breault out of the pond. “It’s a God thing,” Tafaoa said in an interview. “We both agree that we’re men of faith, and God allowed us to be where we were at for that reason.” He said it’s a “good possibility” that the children might be dead now if he and Sprinkle had not become involved. “I’ve been told the kids are safe, and that’s what matters,” he said. Breault faces multiple charges, including two counts of attempted murder, in the May 17 incident, according to arrest warrants and jail records. She was charged with two counts of attempted murder, two counts of neglect by legal custodian, child endangerment by vehicle and DUI, 0.10, first offense. Some early reports said Breault drove her car into the pond, but Sprinkle and Tafaoa confirmed that the car never went into the water.