By Dan Hust
KAUNEONGA LAKE March 15, 2005 Town of Bethel Heavy Equipment Operator Jason Stanton was just doing his job on a snowy March 2 when things went terribly wrong.
Inside a sand truck just south of Swan Lake, he spied a car coming in his direction as he treated Blanchard Road.
Both he and the other driver maneuvered out of each others way on the narrow road, but as they passed, Stanton glimpsed a frightening scene in his rear-view mirror.
The last thing I saw was the taillights going over, he recalled this past Thursday.
Jumping out of his town truck, Stanton ran to the roadside, only to find a 2002 Hyundai Sonata sitting on its roof in the West Branch of the Mongaup River.
Trying not to fall as he made his way down the bank, Stanton knew there was at least one person still inside the car and that meant getting wet.
Visions of a fatal car wreck last year bouncing through his head, Stanton plunged into the icy water and found not one but two people hanging upside down, still strapped in their seats.
And they were alive.
I cant tell you how happy I was to see that face staring in the window, recalled Gina Shultis, the cars driver. I didnt think anyone saw me.
Now the trick was to get her and her three-year-old daughter Olivia out of a car rapidly filling with just-above-freezing water.
While Gina is thankful the seatbelts (and Olivias child seat) held them fast, opening the doors proved impossible, since the car was still in Drive (a safety feature with some automatic transmissions).
So she rolled down the windows and, with Stantons much-needed help, got herself and her daughter out into the chilly air.
Meanwhile, Stanton fell through the remains of a beaver dam, and all I could picture was another car coming [down the embankment], said Shultis.
But they quickly made it back onto the road, and miraculously, the only injury was a bruise to Ginas leg.
My pocketbook got pretty messed up, she joked.
Living less than a mile away, Shultis was actually ready to walk home, but Stanton insisted the mother and daughter join him inside the warm sand truck for a ride back to their house.
Shultis accepted, and save for dealing with the tow truck and a difficult insurance company, she thought that was the end of it.
But news travels fast in a small township, and soon everyone knew what Stanton had done to help two fellow residents.
So on Thursday, the Town of Bethel Board and Highway Superintendent Lynden Lilley presented the 10-year town employee with a plaque in appreciation of his heroic and likely life-saving efforts.
I am so proud of him, said Lilley as Stanton accepted the award and a standing ovation at the senior center in Kauneonga Lake. He exemplifies the highest standards all our men have.
He said Stanton is a quiet, humble and self-effacing person, and he wasnt proven wrong that evening.
Although obviously pleased with the recognition, Stanton thanked the audiences adulations with a simple, honest Im just glad everyone was OK.
Thanks to him, they all are.