Driver’s gut instinct leads to trapped man

By Cathy Logg

Herald Writer

SNOHOMISH — An unnamed motorist owes his life to Michael Dutton’s gut instinct.

Dutton was on his way to drop off his 3-year-old son, Miles, at the Brookside School and was about a quarter-mile behind a small pickup about 9:30 a.m. Thursday. He had turned off U.S. 2 onto Bickford Avenue, and thought he saw the truck run off the road.

He continued driving to that spot and pulled over, then got out to check. He saw a mark like a vehicle had left the road, but looked down the embankment and saw no vehicle.

"I yelled down to see if anyone was there," he said. He heard only silence.

He continued driving into Snohomish and dropped off his son. He was running behind on his way to work in Bellingham, where he is a chef at Anthony’s Homeport at Squalicum Harbor.

Dutton’s gut nagged at him, he said.

"I was just imagining that if somebody did go off and I didn’t go back, I couldn’t live with myself," he said. "I swear I saw (the truck) go off the road, but when I looked, I couldn’t see a vehicle. I thought maybe it was so early and I hadn’t had my coffee yet and I just imagined it, or the next road was so close and he’d just turned off. But something inside me told me I needed to go back and investigate."

So he went back to the spot by the side of the road where he’d been nearly a half-hour before.

"I climbed down the embankment, about 25 feet. I only saw thick blackberry bushes. I yelled at the top of my voice, ‘Is anybody down there? Can anybody hear me?’ I heard a very faint voice say, ‘Help, help, I’m trapped! I can’t get out,’" Dutton said.

He called 911 on his cell phone, and shortly after a variety of law officers, firefighters and rescuers arrived. The rescuers couldn’t see the pickup, which had plowed into some blackberry bushes.

"He was right in the middle, but the blackberries closed on top of him and you couldn’t see that there was a car down there," Dutton said.

Snohomish firefighters spent about 15 to 20 minutes cutting away the blackberries and brush before they could even see the pickup, Dutton said.

"The guy went 30 or 40 feet off the road," Snohomish firefighter Todd Cole said. "He wasn’t injured. We had to make a trail to his passenger door. He was very relieved. He could have been (stuck there) if somebody hadn’t stopped. We had to cut the brush to find the car and then cut the brush to get him out."

"It was just an amazing thing," Dutton said. "The fire guys were high-fiving me and saying I’d saved this guy’s life."

Once firefighters cut the blackberries away from the passenger door, the motorist was able to get out on his own. Shaken, he walked up the embankment with the help of a couple of firemen, Dutton said.

"He was just buried into the bushes," Dutton mused. "There was no way he could get out. He would be there right now if I hadn’t gone back, and nobody would have known about it. I was just blessed to be able to come back and hear him, and get him out of there. I think he thought he was a goner."

Dutton called the restaurant and told them he’d be late. He arrived about 12:30 p.m.

"We were in the middle of 300 lunches, and we just went totally silent," he said, referring to the national day of mourning for those killed Tuesday in the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

"On a day like today, I feel so proud to be an American and to be able to help somebody. It’s just really now starting to sink in. I would love to get together with this guy and shake his hand and meet him face to face, and tell him there were angels looking out for him, and I was looking out for him, and God bless America," Dutton said.

You can call Herald Writer Cathy Logg at 425-339-3437

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