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Heroes honored for saving young boy submerged in truck at Smith & Morehouse Reservoir

Paxton Knight heroes Chance Peterson, Sheriff Martinez, Paxton Night, Joe Donnell, Fionna Pierce.jpg
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Summit County Sheriff Justin Martinez (second from left) poses with three of the four people honored for saving Paxton Knight (front, center). From left to right are Chance Peterson, Martinez, Knight, Joe Donnell and Fionna Pierce.

Sheriff calls the boy's rescue "a miracle."

The right people were in the right place at the right time to save a 9-year-old boy in Summit County. And on Saturday, four heroes were recognized for their actions. Brandon Haskell, Joe Donnell, Chance Peterson, and Fionna Pierce all received honorary plaques from Summit County Sheriff Justin Martinez.

On August 22nd, Paxton Knight was at Smith and Morehouse Reservoir. He was in a pickup truck on the boat ramp with another 9-year-old boy and a 2-year-old girl while adults loaded up their outdoor gear. Suddenly, according to Summit County Sheriff Justin Martinez, something went wrong.

“Somehow the transmission slipped, and the vehicle slid into the water,” said Martinez. “Mr. Brandon Haskell, who is the grandfather of Brianna who is two years old, rushed from the shore. As the vehicle was sinking, he was able to get her out of the vehicle. The other boy, 9-year-old Lucas, was able to get out himself. But as the vehicle continued to be submerged, Paxton was not able to get out.”

Martinez said the truck was in twenty feet of water with Paxton inside. Joe Donnell was kayaking nearby. He lives in Summit County and was a park ranger for 25 years. Donnell said he didn’t plan on being there. He wanted to continue fishing, but stormy skies prompted him to head to shore.

“As luck would have it, I was in the marina in my kayak and there was a pickup truck parked on the boat ramp and I noticed it started to slowly move forward into the lake,” said Donnell, adding there was “a lot of chaos, a lot of people screaming and yelling.”

Donnell said he quickly paddled over and plunged into the water.

“I dove down, the water was really dark, and it was dark enough I couldn’t see anything, so I was just doing it by feel to find where Paxton was.”

He dove seven times. Some of the truck’s doors were locked. He tried breaking a window. He didn’t give up. And then…

“I felt clothing. So, I knew I had him. So, I grabbed him, I pulled him up to my body. I swam backwards out of the truck, went to the surface, took him to shore where myself, my wife and two bystanders started doing CPR.”

Those two bystanders were two neighbors, Chance Peterson, and Fionna Pierce. Pierce was also trained in emergency response. She was in the New Zealand Coast Guard for five years and trained as a search and rescue marine medic.

Like Donnell, Peterson and Pierce had not planned to be at the Smith Morehouse Reservoir at that moment. A flat tire during a hunting trip changed their plans. They were in their car near the reservoir when they were flagged down by people frantically asking if they knew CPR.

Pierce’s training kicked in. They performed CPR for 10 to 15 minutes before the medical helicopter arrived.

“I just feel so exceptionally fortunate that I was able to, I guess be emotionally removed from the situation,” noted Pierce. “I know there were a lot of people in shock that I was able to help in some small way which has come to fruition to be the best possible outcome. It’s very overwhelming for me to see this little boy who last I saw was very sick. To see him now is amazing.”

At the time of the rescue, medics said Paxton was in extreme critical condition. Martinez said the boy was in a coma for several days but woke up earlier than doctors thought possible. Paxton left the hospital last Thursday.

Paxton Knight with puppy.jpg
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Paxton Knight plays with a puppy before a news conference honoring the four people who helped rescue him on August 22nd.

He didn’t speak at the news conference but smiled and played with a puppy. Paxton also posed for pictures with Donnell, Peterson, and Pierce who received plaques for their heroism from Sheriff Martinez. (Haskell was not present.)

“He (Paxton) is a miracle among us, ladies and gentlemen,” said Martinez. “This is a story that is so special. They were the right people at the right time to do what they needed to do to save this young man. So, we’re here to say thank you to these brave men and women who risked their lives to save the life of another.”

Paxton’s grandmother said he is doing very well, despite a few aches, and plans to start fourth grade very soon.

Renai Bodley Miller became General Manager of KPCW in June, 2017. Previously, she was a reporter at KPCW. Renai is a 25 year veteran of the television news business. She was a news producer in Roanoke, VA, Richmond, VA, Miami, FL, and Washington, DC before moving to Utah in 1996 to be the Executive Producer at KSTU Fox 13. In 1999, she was promoted to Vice President/News Director. Under Renai’s tenure, Fox 13 expanded its news coverage from 2.5 hours to 10 hours of news a day. She retired in July, 2015, to enjoy her new home in Park City; but she couldn’t stay out of a newsroom for long. Less than a month later she signed on with KPCW as a reporter, and less than two years later she was promoted to General Manager when Larry Warren retired.