Eagle teen receives lifesaving award for helping rescue driver

Chas Le Breton used a loader to pull a 60-foot tree off a pickup.

kmoeller@idahostatesman.comDecember 10, 2013 

Boisean Jim Clarke was driving home on a stormy afternoon in September when a 60-foot cottonwood tree fell onto the cab of his pickup truck.

“I saw these branches come down, and I tried to stop,” said the 46-year-old construction worker, who was turning from Valli-Hi Road onto North Eagle Road. “Before I did that, the tree landed on me.”

Chas Le Breton, 18, received the Eagle Fire Department’s Lifesaving Award on Tuesday night for his part in rescuing Clarke on Sept. 5. He was praised for his quick thinking and calmness under pressure.

The tree that landed on Clarke’s 1993 Ford F-150 crumpled the cab and crushed the driver, the lone occupant of the vehicle. It fell from the passenger side of the vehicle.

The windshield shattered and the dashboard slammed into Clarke’s knees. He was pinned in place, his head turned to the side, though he couldn’t see anything.

He didn’t lose consciousness.

“I freaked out for the first 5 minutes,” he said. “My problem was struggling to breathe.”

His boss, Steve Paul, was in a vehicle behind him. But there was little Paul could do to help, other than try to keep Clarke calm.

The incident occurred across the street from Twin Oaks Farm, which is on North Eagle Road just north of Beacon Light. Tess Le Breton, an Eagle girl who cares for horses at the farm, saw the tree on the truck and went to get her brother, Chas, who also works part-time at the farm.

“As soon as we saw it, I was certain that he was dead,” said Chas, an 18-year-old Eagle High grad who is in his first semester at Boise State University.

Everyone agrees that an inch here or there, and that might have been the outcome.

After learning that Clarke was alive, Chas went back to the farm to get a loader. He took off the bucket attachment and put on the fork.

The teenager said he’d been driving the loader for six or seven months — enough to feel familiar, if not confident in an emergency situation.

“I’ve got this man’s life in my hands. One accidental move could have just made the whole thing worse,” he said. With Paul’s guidance, he was able to lift the tree off the pickup on the first try.

“It was a very, very intense thing,” Chas said.

Firefighters used “jaws of life” equipment to cut Clarke out of the truck.

Clarke’s most serious injuries included two fractured cervicals in his neck, a fractured femur (right leg) and cuts on his right arm and hand. He had surgery on his neck.

“It’s still healing,” said Clarke, who isn’t yet back to work. “I wear a neck brace when I go out driving or doing anything.”

He’s very thankful for Chas’ quick action.

“I can never thank him enough. He’s a godsend, him and his sister both,” Clarke said. He’s met up with them a few times since the incident and shared a meal at the Le Bretons’ house.

Chas Le Breton is studying finance at Boise State University. He hasn’t settled on a career path, but considered being a first-responder and firefighter before the September rescue.

“It’s very rewarding to help other people and be part of something bigger,” he said.

Katy Moeller: 377-6413

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