Retired Park Ranger Saves 9-Year-Old Boy After Family’s Truck Sinks

by Amy Myers

Just because this park ranger hung up his hat and polo doesn’t mean he won’t jump right back into action when he finds someone in need. Local hero Joe Donnell was kayaking through the Smith and Morehouse Reservoir near Oakley, Utah when he spotted a family in sheer distress. While unloading kayaks from the back of their truck, the family’s vehicle rolled into the water, taking the three children inside with it.

Instantly, the family tried to free the kids from the truck and managed to grab hold of the two-year-old girl and one of the nine-year-old boys. But it wasn’t until Donnell stepped in that they were able to pull Paxton, who had been underwater for 10 minutes, to safety. Even for Donnell, it took him several attempts to finally get to Paxton and bring him to the surface.

“We’ve heard that the gentleman had to dive down about seven times before he finally grabbed some clothing and was able to get Paxton out,” Paxton’s aunt, Kelley Carpenter told WIS News.

Retired Park Ranger Says As an Emergency Responder, ‘That’s What You Do’

Once on shore, the group called for help, and medical teams soon arrived to airlift the nine-year-old boy to Primary Children’s Hospital in Salt Lake City. There, they placed him on life support in the intensive care unit. Carpenter was able to visit her nephew on Tuesday. She said the circumstances of the accident are still unknown.

“We’re not sure what happened at that point. The truck started to roll down. They tried to get the kids out of the car,” Carpenter stated.

It’s unclear if Carpenter was there at the accident or only arrived later at the hospital. The parents of the nine-year-old have yet to make a statement.

Donnell, himself said his actions were second nature.

“As an emergency responder, you are trained to respond. That’s what you do,” he told FOX 13 Utah.

According to Donnell, Paxton was “floating by the windshield” when he finally grabbed him from the truck. Two bystanders and fellow good samaritans helped provide CPR until medical teams could arrive.

Nine-Year-Old Is Still Recovering in Hospital

In the meantime, though, Paxton’s aunt is happy to report that the young boy is on the road to recovery. He is still receiving treatment but seems to be gaining back some of his strength. In fact, he’s even able to respond to questions with a nod or a hand squeeze.

“The doctors say that he is doing well and is able to respond to some of their tasks. They did not think that he would survive,” Carpenter reported. “Every time I spoke to him, he responded to me, whether that be squeezing my hand, shaking his head ‘yes.’”

Despite the harrowing experience, Carpenter seems confident the nine-year-old will continue healing, thanks to the quick thinking of the retired park ranger. Hopefully, soon, Paxton will be able to get back to the activities he enjoys most.

“He’s very outgoing, loves to be around all his nieces and nephews, loves playing ‘Fortnite’ with us,” Carpenter said. “He’s going to keep fighting, as long as all of us.”

“My prayer right now is that he survives,” Donnell said with tears in his eyes.