ODOT hero recounts frantic rescue of submerged driver

ODOT hero recounts frantic rescue of submerged driver »Play Video
ODOT worker Troy Elverfeld talks to the media in Albany on Wednesday after pulling a man from a sinking pickup truck on Monday. (Photo by Lincoln Graves)

ALBANY, Ore. - An Oregon Department of Transportation worker who is being hailed as a quick-thinking hero said he acted on instinct to save a man's life after a chain-reaction crash sent a pickup truck into a pond where it completely submerged.

“You don’t go thinking you’re a superhero. You just go and do what you gotta do and that’s what I did,” Troy Elverfeld said.

Oregon State Police said that eastbound traffic on Highway 20 near Albany was stopped on Monday for highway work when 21-year-old John Olson of Sisters plowed into the back of a 1970 Chevrolet pickup driven by 56-year-old Dean Stilwell of Sweet Home.

After being hit, Stilwell’s pickup crashed into another vehicle, went across the road and into a pond where the vehicle quickly sank until it was completely submerged.

Police said Elverfeld, 47, saw smoke rising from the chain-reaction wreck and rushed to the crash site.

“I heard people shouting, ‘there’s a guy in there, there’s a guy in there,'" Elverfeld said. "And then you just gotta think, 'okay, what do we do to get this guy out.'”

He grabbed a metal rod from a backhoe and dove into the water. He found Stilwell trapped in the fully submerged pickup with the windows rolled up.

After three tries, Elverfeld broke the driver’s side window with the rod and pulled Stilwell out. Stilwell was taken to the hospital with a concussion and is now recovering.

On Wednesday, Elverfeld, a maintenance worker for ODOT for 15 years, spoke about the incident at an ODOT facility in Albany.

“It’s just instinct, my first instinct. What do we need to break a window," he recalled. “I took [the rod] out and went down there to see if somebody needed it. Well, I was the person that needed it," he said.

“I want to meet him and talk to him. But that’s between me and him. That’s private," Dean Stilwell told KATU News by phone. Elverfeld said he does plan to meet Stilwell at some point.

Stilwell said he was knocked unconscious and does not remember the rescue. He said he was banged up from the crash "but otherwise I'm OK."

Elverfeld said that after the adventurous day, he got home and his daughter said, "Good job dad. You’re a hero.”

A total of five people, including a toddler, were hurt in the crash. Olson was cited for careless driving.