Built in 1980, the San Jon Port of Entry in New Mexico is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and it functions as the headquarters of the Motor Transportation Police of the Department of Public Safety. On July 31, 2011, the Port became the scene of a critical emergency response that resulted in heroic actions by two officers — Officer Rodney Bone of the Motor Transportation Police and Officer Christopher Stimpson of the New Mexico State Police.
Both Officer Bone, a law enforcement officer for 17 years and Officer Stimpson, an officer for 12 years, utilized every ounce of their skills and training on that fateful day. Officer Bone was at the Port of Entry near the weigh station and was getting ready to deal with radioactive loads when he heard talking in the distance that caused him to look over at the interstate. He heard someone say, “Fire” and, from a distance, saw a small fire that he guessed might be a fire starting in the grass.
When Officer Bone pulled up to the scene, he saw an 18-wheeler under the rear end section of another 18-wheeler. He grabbed his fire extinguisher initially thinking it was nothing big. He subsequently noticed a man banging on the driver side window from the inside. Officer Bone pulled out his extended baton and broke the window. “I cleared out debris and told him to get out,” said Officer Bone. The man’s foot was stuck and Bone asked him, “Can you get it unstuck?” The man could not get his seat belt undone. Officer Bone asked him if he was alone only to discover there was a co-driver in the sleeper who was screaming and who had projected forward and impacted the dashboard with his face.
It Seemed Like an Eternity
While this was occurring, the fire was getting bigger, the flames were entering the sleeper and tires were exploding. “It started getting pretty intense,” said Officer Bone. The driver was able to free himself when Officer Stimpson appeared on the scene. “In reality, it was 30 seconds when this took place, but it seemed like an eternity,” Stimpson said.
The co-driver, a big man of approximately 300 pounds, was stuck in the truck, and Officer Bone could not reach him. He tried to open the door to no avail. “I was frantically trying to get the door open,” he said, while the man inside was screaming and on his back trapped in between the aisle inside the truck. The bunk was on fire, and flames were at his feet as the man was kicking at them.
Officer Bone hollered for Officer Stimpson’s assistance. Stimpson jumped up on the step of the truck near the door. Officer Stimpson pulled on the man’s arm. “He wasn’t budging at all. I think my adrenaline was going. I felt something snap,” Officer Stimpson said. Stimpson climbed through the window and pulled him along until the man got stuck in the driver side window. The co-driver’s arm was bloody, and Stimpson had blood on his hand. All the while, Officer Bone was pulling on Officer Stimpson’s gun belt. Stimpson slipped off the step and landed on the ground.
By the time Stimpson was able to get himself in an upright position, Bone was successful in extricating the man from the truck.
“I stepped off the truck and pulled him out of the driver’s window,” said Officer Bone. The man’s pants were down to his ankles, and Officer Bone dragged him away from the truck. By that time, the flames from the truck were five feet in the air. People who had stopped nearby assisted, and the man was placed on a grassy median while Officer Stimpson called for Fire/EMS to respond to the scene.
The crash resulted when the one truck had slowed down to five miles per hour as it approached the weigh station, and was impacted by another truck from behind that was travelling at 65 miles per hour. There was no evidence of skid marks indicating an attempt to stop.
By the Grace of God
“That day was a good day because people survived,” said Officer Stimpson.
Both officers were in the right place at the right time. Officer Bone was a quarter mile from where the crash occurred, and Officer Stimpson happened to be close by. “The timing was such that we were able to get these people out,” said Stimpson. “We were there for a reason,” Officer Bone said.
One victim was airlifted to Amarillo and the co-driver was airlifted to Lubbock. One victim called a couple days later and asked to speak to Officer Bone but was unable to reach him at the time.
“I’m very humbled by it. You take an oath to protect and serve. I always thought I would die trying to help someone in this situation. It was like sticking your head in an oven. Wow, this is real. People can die. People can get hurt. You look back and you’re wowed. I’d do the exact same thing today. That’s the job. By the Grace of God, this was a success. I hope they (the victims) had a successful recovery. I’m just glad it was a success. I’m grateful I was there,” Officer Bone said. He did not get panic-stricken and was grateful Officer Stimpson was there. “In 17 years, it was the first time I was scared,” Officer Bone said.
“You learn to appreciate life a lot because in this job we see a lot of people who don’t survive. All fatalities shake me up to some degree. The training in the academy is you never give up,” Stimpson said.
Both Officers Bone and Stimpson have received a lot of appreciation from other officers and staff. For their heroic efforts and lifesaving results, they both will be awarded the Medal of Valor. It is the highest award presented by the Department of Public Safety — it is for employees who display conspicuous gallantry and integrity at the risk of their own lives above and beyond the call of duty in addition to being aware of the great personal danger prior to the performance of the act which must have involved great risk to life.
Officers Bone and Stimpson are scheduled to receive their awards in December 2011. They serve as models of inspiration to their colleagues across the nation who share their dedication and devotion to public safety.