Citizens honored for coming to aid after automobile wreck

John B. Crane
Devils Lake Journal

DEVILS LAKE – It was an occasion for celebration at the Devils Lake Ambulance Garage Tuesday afternoon. Although the building was known for vehicles going to and from places of need, the event on Nov. 16 had refreshments and, most importantly, recognition on the docket. 

This recognition, in particular, was aimed toward the efforts of Scott Willoughby, Cody Willoughby, Brady Ouart and Jeremy Swanson. 

The four award recipients line up for a photo at the Devils Lake Ambulance Garage.

“I am extremely proud of the citizens that took action and saved somebody’s life,” North Dakota Highway Patrol Lt. Troy Hischer said after the ceremony. “Not that it does not happen, but to have the opportunity for this many people to step up and the courage it builds between them and amongst them...the vehicle was one fire, the person was unconscious at one point during this, and there was just no quitting. They did what they needed to do with very limited training and equipment and got him out of there. They were not willing to quit. They were willing to go the extra mile to risk their own lives, really, and injury."

It was business as usual for Scott, Cody and Ouart on Sep. 9. After all, they were simply working on a house nearby when they heard a loud noise coming in the direction of Highway 2 near mile marker 274. At the drop of a nail, the trio hopped into a pickup truck and headed straight to the scene.

The sound was not the only indicator, of course. So was the sight of a fire.  

Once the trio arrived, the situation revealed itself in full. It was an automobile collision involving Swanson and Holden Mack. The wreck proved to be so severe that Mack lost consciousness at the time of the impact. However, once Scott, Cody and Ouart arrived, Mack regained consciousness and asked for help. 

There was one problem, however. Mack was trapped. A dose of quick-thinking helped the trio, in addition to Swanson, hatch an idea. After hooking a tow rope to the top frame of the door, the individuals pried it down. This allowed Swanson to reach into the vehicle, cut away the seat belt and pull Holden to safety. 

Because of their efforts, Scott, Cody, Ouart and Swanson were presented with the Colonel’s Award for Excellence and Governor’s Life Saving Award in front of the Lake Region Ambulance Service, Devils Lake City Fire Department, Devils Lake Rural Fire Department, Devils Lake City Police Department, Ramsey County Sheriff’s Department and North Dakota Highway Patrol.

To Cody, it was about capitalizing with the adrenaline and helping save a community member in a time of dire need. 

“Just get in the car and get over there and try and help him out,” Cody Willoughby said. “We were still a block away when we could see the vehicle was on fire, and we got up to it and did our best and everything we could do to get him out.” 

The efforts from the community members proved to be critical as emergency services had yet to arrive.  

“This happened on the highway, so we are talking highway speeds, and it was blocking the roadway,” Hischer said. “These particular citizens took action and endangered themselves. We want people to be safe, and there is a certain amount of risk everybody is willing to take. A lot of times, we see people willing to call 9-1-1 but not act. In this case, they know the victim’s families are very thankful, and we are very thankful. They saved a life.” 

Even after the adrenaline wore off, Cody was thankful to assist before emergency services arrived to offer assistance. From Cody’s perspective, it was about acting at the moment when no one else was there. 

Cody hopes that if he found himself in a similar situation, other community members would step up to lend assistance as he did. 

“I wish that if I ever got in an accident like that, they would also help me,” Cody said. “That is how I look at it.” 

In Hischer’s 25 years of working in the region, the awards have been almost exclusive to those involved in the profession. However, Hischer and others have recognized the need to show appreciation to citizens who put their lives on the line to save another individual. 

This need for recognition has been seen as an absolute necessity, especially when considering other citizens helped during the wreck. To Hischer, it is about giving these additional community members their share of well-earned gratitude. 

“I know one person is not here today,” Hischer said. “One of the other people said he was burned on his hand from prying the door because the vehicle was on fire. He is not here today. We just found out who he was, but we will try and find him and offer him the exact awards we did today because we knew we had at least one person we could not identify through the photos. It is a great day. I am extremely proud of them.”