1st responders honored for saving North Dakota man’s life

Duayne Ruona, right, of North Dakota, survived a July 17 motorcycle accident that resulted from flash flooding on Highway 79 heading north of Newell. He is pictured with some of the rescuers who assisted in his safe retrieval. From right, after Ruona, is: Brian Fox, Tristan Clements, Rick Walton, S.D. Department of Transportation supervisor; Troy Clutter, Sherry Hocking, Casey Baker, Don Tishmack, Butte County Commission Chairman Kim Richards, and Sheriff Fred Lamphere. Pioneer photo by Lacey Peterson

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BUTTE COUNTY — The Butte County Commission Tuesday honored eight first responders who put their life on the line duty a July 17 flash flood that resulted in saving the life of a North Dakota man.

Butte County Sheriff Fred Lamphere spoke Tuesday, explaining the circumstances that led to the man’s rescue. He said that at approximately midnight on July 17, a thunderstorm had just passed the northern part of Butte County, leaving a section of U.S. Highway 79 flooded with water that had crested the road. 

Deputy Sheriff Tristan Clements responded to the scene and alerted Lamphere and other first responders that a truck, operated by Troy Clutter, had recently passed by the flooded roadway. Clutter advised Clements that he’d seen a motorcyclist, later identified as Duayne Ruona, of North Dakota, driving on the roadway and that he was concerned the flooding may have affected him.

“Deputy Clements from his location, east of the flooding on Highway 79, said he did not see any motorcycle come through there,” Lamphere said, adding that Clements began searching for Ruona.

Lamphere said that he and Rick Walton, a supervisor with the South Dakota Department of Transportation, searched the area of the flooding in an effort to locate Ruona.

Utilizing a powerful spotlight and binoculars, Walton and Lamphere spotted reflective rain gear worn by Ruona a few hundred yards off the roadway in the flooded field next to the highway.

Lamphere placed a call for search and rescue assistance.

“I then when out on foot where Duayne (Ruona) was,” he said. “It was apparent that he had had some head trauma but to my surprise, he was communicating very well.”

Brian Fox, with the Castle Rock Fire Department, was the first to arrive on the scene with an ATV. Lamphere admitted that while transporting a victim with head trauma was not the preferred method, another storm was quickly approaching the area and first responders were concerned about Ruona’s injuries and increased flooding.

“We needed to get him to an area where EMTs (emergency medical technicians) could assist him when they arrived,” Lamphere said. “We were about 100 yards from the highway when the Newell Ambulance from the Newell Fire Department arrived on the scene.”

Lamphere said he feared Ruona was beginning to exhibit the symptoms of hypothermia and knew he needed immediate assistance.

“It’s surprising when I see you here because you were in pretty bad shape,” he said to Ruona. “It was a bad situation but a lot of things came together and worked out good; it’s pretty much miraculous that you’re here.”

Lamphere presented plaques of recognition to the first responders and others who worked together to rescue Ruona, including: Brian Fox, of Hoover; Clements; Rick Walton and Bill Heidrich with the South Dakota Department of Transportation; Troy Clutter; and Sherry Hocking, Casey Baker, Don Tishmack, with the Newell Ambulance Service; and the Newell Volunteer Fire Department.

The plaques read: “It’s your efforts on July 17 that contributed to saving a life. Your actions went above and beyond the call of duty. Your immediate actions led to the search and ultimate discovery of a motorcyclist that had been swept away by floodwaters. Saving a life is one of the greatest accomplishments a person can experience.” 

“I’m happy to have Duayne here with us today,” Lamphere said. “Because of his will to survive and all of these responders, he’s able to be here with us.”

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