Correctional officers work tirelessly to change lives, but on July 31 a three-man team of local officers changed gears momentarily on their way to work to save a life on Interstate 84. Denny Croner, of Payette, had been in a rollover accident, with his 2016 Dodge Ram truck door closed on his arm, lacerating it.
In a Sept. 13 interview with Independent-Enterprise, Croner says he was coming back from tending business in Caldwell when the crash happened.
“I was sent down to the Caldwell VFW [Veterans of Foreign Wars] Post to help get it started,” he said. “I try to get down there two or three times a week to try to help them out.”
As reported on Aug. 7, a Provo, Utah woman lost control of her Honda minivan after a tire blew, colliding with Croner and forcing him off the road.
“I was on my way home for lunch. … I hit mile marker seven and thought I saw some rubber alligator truck tires ahead of me in the road,” said Croner. “What I didn’t know is that it was a lady to the right of me whose tire blew. It was her tire. After that, I don’t remember a thing but apparently she ran into me and ran me off into the median.”
According to Officer Charles Neal of the Snake River Correctional Institution, his carpool just happened to be in the right place at the right time.
“The day of the accident, Officer [Trevor] Tieman and I were carpooling to work. While on the freeway we witnessed a huge cloud of dirt coming from the center divider. Tieman told me, ‘Someone had to have rolled their vehicle.’ We pulled over and the dust cleared, and we saw Denny’s white pickup on the other side of the median. I ran over to it to make sure he was OK.”
Witnesses say Croner’s truck rolled four times.
The third officer present at the scene was Chris Bravo, who assisted with CPR until paramedics arrived.
Based on what he saw next, Neal knew this was a matter of life or death.
“When I got to the driver’s side door I noticed a hand sticking out of the door. His [left] hand was caught in between the door and frame of the truck towards the roof. I noticed that his arm had degloved and all I saw was muscle.”
Croner wasn’t immediately visible because the truck’s side airbags had deployed, obscuring him from view.
“The next thing I remember was being loaded into the helicopter,” said Croner. “I thought I was back in Vietnam again.”
Croner served in the U.S. Navy during the Vietnam war, 300 miles off the mainland.
Before sending him off to the hospital, Neal points out how mild-mannered his exchange with Croner was:
“He asked kind of in a daze, ‘Who put the tourniquet on?’ I told him I did, and he said, ‘Why thank you.’ It made me laugh how polite he was.”
Neal recounted how lighthearted things became once paramedics took over the scene.
“It was funny. … that when they were asking Denny questions like, ‘Do you know who the President of the United States is?’ Denny said, ‘Jimmy Carter,’” Neal recalls. “It made me laugh and I think he said that to make everyone laugh. He is that kind of guy. I am very blessed that we were there when that happened. We were where we needed to be. Denny is an amazing guy and we all are very happy we were able to meet him.”
Croner credits the officers’ quick work in applying a tourniquet with saving his life.
“If it hadn’t been for these three guys … I might not have made it,” he believes. “I’m lucky to even be here, period. I’m sure I was bleeding.”
While the degloving broke every bone in his forearm, Croner observed that the tendons remained intact.
“I have motion in my fingers that I wouldn’t have had normally.”
That motion has enabled Croner to keep serving in his capacity with VFW; he manages memberships across the state of Idaho.
“It’s my appointed job, which I volunteered for,” he said.
Croner says he has worked in recent years to save the Caldwell VFW Post from shutting down.
“I had done the same thing here in Payette when I came here in 2004, the post was ready to close. And I got lucky, I got a couple of good guys to help me and we’ve gone from twenty-eight members to over five-hundred. It took me several years.”
His wife, Mary, was his administrative assistant at the VFW prior to their marriage in December. She recalled the phone conversation she had with her husband as he was being taken to the hospital.
“I said, ‘How are you?’ and he goes, ‘Well, not good. I just lost my …’ and he either said ‘car’ or ‘arm.’ I couldn’t tell. So here I am thinking ‘does he just have one arm now?’”
Not knowing where her husband would be taken, Mary told him before hanging up, “I will find you.”
She did, with help from a police officer she followed as her search took her toward Boise.
“When he realized I was right behind him he knew, ‘She must want something, because she wasn’t behind me at the light.’”
The officer confirmed that Croner had been taken to Boise, where the couple were eventually reunited.
While Croner made it out of the truck that day, it took several days to recover his phone from the truck.
“People started going, ‘Well why didn’t he call me?’ His phone was still in the truck, and it got towed away to who knows where,” his wife explained.
As part of recognizing the officers’ efforts, Croner has nominated the gentlemen for awards through the VFW.
“The Veterans of Foreign Wars has a life-saving award program which I’m going to put them in for, all three of them. One of the things they look for is ... the press covers the incident, then they’ve got that for documentation. That makes it easier.”
Croner keeps several emergency items in his vehicles, as his work in the Navy and as a police officer, including handcuffs.
“From now on, I’m carrying a tourniquet too.”
Croner said his accident serves as a reminder of one more good reason to wear your seatbelt.