Trauma, tragedy, bravery: New London Boy Scout honored for attempts to save bus driver
NEW LONDON -- As he did most days on his ride home from school, Jeron Baalson was chatting March 9 with driver Greg Engelke. Baalson, a New London-Spicer 10th-grader, was the only student in the school van and the 64-year-old Engelke was talking ...
NEW LONDON - As he did most days on his ride home from school, Jeron Baalson was chatting March 9 with driver Greg Engelke.
Baalson, a New London-Spicer 10th-grader, was the only student in the school van and the 64-year-old Engelke was talking about a dog - a favorite of his grandkids - that had just been found after being injured and running away the day before.
It was a typical conversation for the two.
But it was a conversation that quickly evolved into trauma and tragedy, with a good dose of bravery from a teenage boy who tried to save the life of a man.
“We are so proud of him,” said Jeron’s mother, Julie Baalson, of Willmar.
It’s a feeling that’s being expressed by the NLS School Board, the Boy Scout troop of which Jeron is a member, the American Heart Association and numerous individuals - including Engelke’s family.
On Monday Jeron received a certificate of “bravery” from the school board, on Tuesday he received a plaque from the American Heart Association and Troop 228 has nominated him for a national Meritorious Action Award.
Engelke’s widow, Gloria, said she’s so thankful for Jeron’s attempts to save her husband’s life.
“We won’t forget him,” she said.
It was about 4:20 p.m. March 9 and Jeron was the last student on the Palmer Bus Company’s school transportation van.
Engelke had just turned onto Kandiyohi County Road 40 and was headed to Jeron’s home by Norway Lake.
Jeron asked Engelke a question, but the driver said nothing.
“I looked at him and said, ‘Greg?’ No response,” said Jeron. “So I just shrugged my shoulders and went back to my writing.”
The van then gradually slowed down, crossed over the center line and went down into the ditch.
“This isn’t funny, Greg,” Jeron recalled saying.
Even though the van was moving slowly, it felt like it was going “1,000 miles an hour,” he said.
The van came to an abrupt stop in a muddy plowed field and Engelke “pitched over,” said Jeron.
Engelke was having a heart attack.
Jeron, who is a Star Scout with Troop 228 in New London, put what he had learned in Boy Scouts to work.
“I was frantically looking for a solution,” Jeron said. “I felt that if I didn’t do something, I’d be committing a crime.”
After making sure Engelke’s airway was clear, Jeron began CPR with chest compressions.
Pausing momentarily, Jeron scrambled for the van’s two-way radio.
“Mayday, Mayday, Mayday. Van down, Van down. Help,” he remembers shouting into the radio.
Having watched and listened to Engelke day after day, Jeron - who said he considered himself Engelke’s “co-pilot” - then remembered the van’s number and the routine for communicating with the bus garage back in New London.
“Forty-five to base,” Jeron said. “Van driver having a heart attack.”
On the other end was Sig Holme, manager at Palmer Bus who is also the New London fire chief.
“He did the right thing by getting on the radio,” Holme said.
After realizing it was too difficult to do CPR while Engelke was still in the seat, Jeron - with the help of an adult passerby who stopped at the scene - managed to get Engelke out of the van and onto the ground.
“By this time I was really muddy,” said Jeron, who was physically drained from doing the steady chest compressions. “I didn’t know how much longer I could keep it up.”
Within minutes, Sig Holme and his brother Mike Holme - an off-duty Willmar police officer who also works for Palmer Bus and heard Jeron’s calls for help on the radio - were roaring down the road.
“We knocked the carbon out of my truck,” said Sig Holme.
When they arrived, they saw Jeron doing CPR and took over the rescue efforts.
“It was pretty amazing. I was very impressed he did what he did,” said Sig Holme. “The Boy Scout training helped.”
“I’m pretty dang proud of him,” said Randy Benson, Troop 228 scoutmaster. “He did everything he was supposed to do. … I think it’s just amazing. I get pretty choked up about it.”
NLS Superintendent Paul Carlson said Jeron is “truly a hero.”
Jeron’s actions would be laudable for any 16-year-old, but they are especially significant considering he has autism, said Julie Baalson.
In his letter of recommendation, Assistant Scoutmaster Al Balay said Jeron’s high-functioning form of autism has not prevented him from learning skills and earning badges, including the first aid merit badge.
Balay said the Scout troop is “very proud of his (Jeron’s) efforts” to save Engelke’s life, which is why he’s been nominated for a national award.
“I feel that Jeron deserves an award for his life-saving ability and for his exceptional response in this crisis situation,” wrote Mike Holme - an Eagle Scout himself - in a letter of support for the scout award.
Jeron’s initial feelings of exhilaration that Monday afternoon crashed a few hours later when his father, Peter Baalson, of New London, got the call that Engelke had died about an hour after the ambulance had taken him to Rice Memorial Hospital in Willmar.
Jeron was “greatly saddened” by the news, said Peter Baalson, who has had numerous talks with his son to help him process the experience and the loss.
“This has been a highly emotional situation for all of us,” he said. “I am proud of Jeron that he did his best.”
Jeron said he’s glad he had his Boy Scout training, and has promised to “listen more” at future Scout training.
Jerson said he hopes that being with Engelke made a difference.
Gloria Engelke said she’s grateful Jeron was there.
“He tried his hardest,” she said. “I’m thankful he was still on board to help Greg and do the best he could. He deserves a lot.”