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Home arrow News arrow Local News arrow STUDENT COUPLE ATTEMPT RESCUE

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STUDENT COUPLE ATTEMPT RESCUE

By T.L. Petersen

Observer Staff Writer

"We just wanted to have a break before finals," said Melissa Aullman, an Eastern Oregon University pre-nursing student as she explains why she and her boyfriend, Justin Bechaver, were driving along Highway 244 Saturday morning.

The two, originally from Payette, Idaho, and Evanston, Wyo., were driving Bechaver's pickup truck to a friend's cabin for the weekend.

Then they saw something wrong. And the day, and their memories, were forever changed.

"It all happened so fast," Aullman said.

She saw two cars pulled over to the edge of the highway and an older woman standing behind the cars. The woman looked upset, so they pulled over.

"She said there'd been a wreck and that there was still a victim down there," Aullman recalls.

The bank from the highway to the river was so steep, Bechaver said, "nobody would have seen the wreck except for that lady."

It would turn out that the Saturday morning accident had claimed the life of Daniel K. Kendall, 44, and injured Jay N. Hinkle, 53, both of Ukiah.

But Aullman and Bechaver, a baseball player studying biochemistry at Eastern, didn't know anything other than that somebody was down in the car in the river.

"He grabbed his first aid kit," Aullman said.

"I always have it, just in case," Bechaver said. Growing up beside Interstate 80 in eastern Wyoming, Bechaver has helped at other accidents. "But nothing like this."

Aullman, wearing sandals, and Bechaver headed down the river bank.

At the river's edge, Bechaver put his first-aid kit down and entered the water to approach the overturned car. The water, they said, was perhaps only mid-thigh deep, but both soaked themselves to the shoulders trying to get the upside-down vehicle's doors open and check on the occupant inside.

The two didn't know, at that point, that Hinkle, the passenger, was out of the car and had climbed the bank to the roadway.

"We did what we could until the EMTs got there," Aullman said.

With CPR training and other first-aid classes in her past, Aullman was trying to find a pulse in the person inside the 1992 Toyota Tercel. They were hoping he might be in an air pocket, but he wasn't.

"I couldn't feel a pulse," Aullman said. "I told (the paramedics) that it felt like a fatality."

"We didn't get in the car," Bechaver said in frustration. "I couldn't get the doors open, but the paramedics had the right tools."

The rescue squad from the La Grande Fire Department was able to turn the vehicle onto its wheels and cut off the roof.

While the rescue squad was working on the car, Aullman learned from the woman along the road that Hinkle was standing nearby.

"I told the EMTs that there was a second victim," she said. "They came up and took him to the hospital."

Hinkle had minor injuries, according to the Oregon State Police.

Aullman said that another man had slid down the riverbank to offer help, but had arrived just ahead of the rescue squad. She never learned his name or that of the woman they'd seen on the highway.

Aullman and Bechaver don't have an answer about why they responded. When they were told that someone was in the car, there was no discussion and no thought. They both, they said, just headed down to try and help.

"The hardest part was getting down there and not feeling a pulse," Aullman remembers.

Bechaver adds, "I just have a really bad feeling about not being able to get the doors open."

The cause of Saturday's accident remains under investigation.

Lt. Reg Madsen of the OSP said there was no indication of excessive speed on the part of the driver.

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