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Student saves man’s life, receives award for heroism

Scott Larson receiving his citation from Chaffee County Sheriff Peter Palmer.

“Hero lifts vehicle, saves man from drowning.”

It’s a headline suitable for the Daily Planet in a Superman comic, but for Scott Larson, it’s no fictitious tale.

Larson is credited with saving a man’s life on June 18 near Buena Vista, Colo. That afternoon, the 21-year-old DU senior finished hiking his 20th 14,000-foot peak, Mount Antero. He had just returned to his car when a man ran toward him, screaming for help.

That man, Jim Denton, told Larson that his friend was drowning. Larson and Denton ran to the near-freezing Baldwin Creek where 69-year-old Jim Taylor was trapped under an all-terrain vehicle. He had been driving the ATV when he hit a snow bank, lost control and rolled into the creek.

Taylor was stuck on his back, facing downstream, and couldn’t get his head above water, Larson says. “My first reaction was, ‘What do I do? How do we get this guy above water?’”

After exerting all of their strength for several minutes, Larson and Denton eventually lifted the vehicle and freed Taylor from the rushing water. He was unconscious, his lips were blue and his eyes were rolled back, Larson says.

“It was a pretty close call,” he says. “He was unconscious long enough that we both thought that he hadn’t made it.”

“When you’re pinned under like that, it just doesn’t seem real. It’s a horrible, terribly frightening feeling,” Taylor said in a June 25 Vail Daily interview. “I thought I was done for.”

Luckily Taylor was wrong. He re-gained consciousness after about 10–20 seconds and that’s when Larson took charge. As part of his student job at the Ritchie Center, Larson received certifications in first aid and CPR. He also is an Eagle Scout and has extensive outdoors survival training.

Larson, who lives in Vail, Colo., when he’s not attending classes, removed Taylor’s wet clothes and wrapped him in a fleece blanket to prevent hypothermia. He did a memory check to make sure Taylor was coherent. Several men who had arrived at the scene helped load Taylor into Larson’s SUV. Larson drove as fast as he could down a treacherous backcountry trail to the main road for cell phone reception.

He called 911 just before Taylor went into shock.

“By the time the paramedics got to us he was visibly shaking,” Larson says.

The paramedics transported Taylor to the Heart of the Rockies Regional Medical Center in Salida, Colo.

Taylor told Larson it took two hours for doctors to raise his body temperature to normal levels. He was coughing up blood, his oxygen levels were low and doctors thought he had a mild heart attack.

“All in all, he’s expected to recover fully and gets to live to see another day, and it’s really great to hear that from him,” Larson says.

Larson says he was fortunate to have been in the right place at the right time, but it almost didn’t happen. On his hike, Larson accepted a ride partway down the mountain from a man in a Jeep — something he normally wouldn’t do. If he had completed the hike on his own, he wouldn’t have made it down in time to help Taylor.

People often joke about Scouts taking their motto, “Be Prepared,” to extremes, but in Larson’s case, it made the difference between life and death.

“This experience taught me that life can literally change in an instant,” Larson says.

Larson is thankful he was prepared with gear and supplies as well as first aid and CPR training.

“You sit through the [training] classes thinking, ‘I’m never going to actually need to use this stuff, I just need to get certified so I can get to work and get paid,’ but once you actually use those things in a situation like this, it’s cemented. I don’t think I’ll ever forget it.”

As a result of his efforts, Larson received the Chaffee County Sheriff’s Citizen Citation for Distinguished Service on Aug. 27.

“The victim recovered fully, and you played a significant role in saving his life,” Chaffee County Sheriff Peter Palmer said in a letter addressed to Larson on June 28.

“It’s more attention than I’ve ever gotten in my entire life,” says Larson, whose story also appeared in the Vail Daily and The Mountain Mail newspapers. “My friends have always told me that I’m really humble. It’s definitely something that I take a lot away from. I’m blessed — it’s really flattering.”

Larson left on Sept. 2 to study abroad in Dijon, France. He’s studying international business with minors in French and Italian. He hopes to work in the ski industry and to finish hiking all of Colorado’s 14ers.

For more information, visit Larson’s Blog.

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