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‘I did what needed to be done’: Crook County man talks about finding, helping driver badly injured in rollover crash

(Update: adding video, comments by man who went to help; driver in improving condition)

PRINEVILLE, Ore. (KTVZ) – A Crook County resident who heard the sounds of a very bad late-night crash last weekend stepped out of his parents' house and stepped up to find the wreck, then the critically injured man thrown from it, and took other steps that he insists were not heroic -- just doing what needed to be done.

A Prineville man was critically injured in the rollover crash of a pickup truck late Saturday night on NE Mill Creek Road near Ochoco Reservoir east of Prineville, sheriff’s deputies said.

Tire treads on the hill side and debris in a Prineville a field were still visible Wednesday, four days after the crash.

Sam Zurcher, the first to arrive on the scene, was glad he went to help:  "I was the only one that actually responded to the noise and came down here. And as far as it was off the road down here, it's very likely it would not have been discovered until daylight the next morning."

Late Saturday night, Zurcher heard a truck crashing just a few feet above his parent's house off Mill Creek Road and alerted his mom to call 911

"There were two other cars that went driving by, and I managed to flag them down," Zurcher said. "There was another guy that hopped out and he followed me down to the wreck, and we had to go over the fence and down to the truck."

Zurcher recalls the two making their way to the wreckage in the dark, with only the light from a cellphone to guide them. 

"My heart just starts beating, because I have no idea what I'm going to be finding," Zurcher recalls. "Luckily, when I actually come up on to the person, he was still breathing. He was unconscious. I tried to get him to respond to verbal commands and, you know, he didn't."

First responders arrived within minutes and were able to put the driver on a backboard, to be flown by Life Flight helicopter to St. Charles Bend.

Sheriff's Sgt. Javier Sanchez had some good news in an update Wednesday: "As of Wednesday, the driver is still at St. Charles, but his condition is improving."

Zurcher recalled, "There was a lot of relief, but also there's that numbness of, you know, you're not quite sure how to react. And so I was just like sitting there, watching the helicopter fly in, and you're just like, 'Wow,. Wow.' But I'm glad that it turned out better than it was."

Zurcher tells NewsChannel 21 he had to use his body weight to lower the wire fence in order for paramedics to reach the driver, who had been thrown from the pickup and was found a few yards to the right of a tree. 

In response to comments about his heroic behavior, Zurcher said, "I am proud of myself, that I was able to respond appropriately, and I was able to take care of the situation. But I don't feel it was a major heroic moment because, you know, I did what needed to be done."

A few years back, Zurcher was in a similar situation -- and if it weren't for a passerby, he may not have survived his own crash. He figures his training as a Boy Scout (their motto: Be Prepared) -- also was key. 

"It all goes back to the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have others do unto you," Zurcher said. "You know, just react to things. Don't assume somebody else is going to do it."

Deputies responded around 11:15 p.m. Saturday to the reported crash, Sanchez said.

Arriving deputies learned a Dodge pickup had left the road and overturned, throwing the driver from the vehicle, Sanchez said. The man, whose name was withheld at the family’s request, was alone in the truck.

The driver was unconscious when found and when deputies arrived. Sanchez said Crook County Fire & Rescue brought the driver to the intersection of Mill Creek Road and Highway 26, where it was temporarily closed by Oregon State Police for a Life Flight helicopter to land. He was flown to St. Charles Bend.

Speed is believed to be a factor in the crash, but the investigation is continuing, Sanchez said.

The Crook County Road Department responded to clear the road of gravel and debris. The sheriff’s office thanked the agencies who helped with the crash, as well as STAR Towing.

“The Crook County Sheriff’s Office would like to extend our thoughts and prayers to the driver for his complete recovery, and his family as they deal with this terrible accident,” Sanchez said in a news release.

NewsChannel 21 first heard Monday from Zurcher, who said he discovered the crash victim on Saturday, "which happens to be my birthday."

Here's how he first told us in an email how it all happened:

 "Around 11:05 I was in my parent's home just above the crash site. I heard a very distinct crash that I knew was a rollover accident. I immediately exited the house and drove down to Mill Creek road where I located the destroyed pickup.

"No one was inside the vehicle and I did not see anyone near the truck. I didn't have cell service so I quickly drove back to the house and told my 89-year-old mom to call 911. I then returned to the crash scene and flagged down two passing cars. Another man from one of the cars followed me down to the wreck using our cell phone lights to search ahead of us. He double checked to see if the driver was inside or under the vehicle while I began a search of the area.  

 "I followed a trail of debris and located the driver several feet ahead of where the vehicle ejected him. He was unconscious, breathing and making small vocalizations. He did not respond to my voice or when the other man touched his hand. I told the other man to avoid moving the injured driver and stay with him while I searched a wider area in case there were other occupants who had been ejected. I found none.

"At that point, my 89-year-old father arrived and passed a blanket down to us to help keep the injured driver warm.

 "Police officers and paramedics arrived quickly and worked efficiently to get the injured driver onto a stretcher and carry him up to the ambulance. I used my body weight to push down the fence they had to cross to help them avoid tripping over it. Shortly after one of the deputies took my statement and I returned to my home, where I watched the Life Flight helicopter fly in and transport the injured man.

"I was concerned about the young man and was left wondering if he had survived. I did a Google search where I found the KTVZ article and to my relief it was reported that he was still alive in critical condition at the hospital. I am hoping that he can fully recover.

 "Had I not heard the crash and investigated the situation the injured driver would likely have not been found until the next morning. Things could have very well turned for the worst if that had happened.

"I do not point this out to boast or take credit. I say it to remind others that you have to act when you suspect an emergency is taking place. It is best to investigate and confirm the situation versus dismissing the possibility or assuming someone else will look into it."

"Sam  "

Article Topic Follows: Accidents and Crashes

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Matthew Draxton

Matthew Draxton is a multimedia journalist for NewsChannel 21. Learn more about Matthew here.


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