'Two strangers met under the worst possible circumstances’: Teen saves woman on James River

Jalen Thomas, 19, is an Evington volunteer firefighter

EVINGTON, Va. – Saving lives comes easy for Jalen Thomas. He’s a three-year volunteer firefighter in Evington.

“When the pagers go off, you respond to the station and run calls like any other ordinary call, but you never know when you’re going to get the call,” Thomas said.

On Saturday Thomas answered a different call.

The 19-year-old and his friends were out on the James River at Percival’s Island in Lynchburg when he watched the fast-moving currents separate Jackie Sligh from her family who made it out of their kayaks and onto the dock.

“I got back on my kayak to try and get her. I ended up on falling off my kayak,” Thomas said.

Jalen didn’t give up. He held onto Sligh’s kayak and a tree branch until two people in a motorboat picked her up.

“She looked like she was panicking, freaking out a little bit. Just trying to keep her calm and let her know we’re going to be alright. We’ll figure it out,” Thomas said.

Jalen saved himself afterwards.

Sligh shared her experience and thanks on Facebook, saying “In a world today so full of anger and hate, two strangers met under the worst possible circumstances...color, gender, race...none of it mattered!!”

The Brookville High School senior graduated today with support from family and a congratulations message from his new friend.

“I’m here to give back to my community as many ways as I can, that was just the way that I could,” Thomas said.

10 News reached out to Jackie Sligh and she wasn't available for an on-camera interview.

Thomas says wants to become a full-time firefighter for the Roanoke Fire Department.