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


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.

August 22n/a, Paxton Knight was at the Smith Morehouse Reservoir. He was in a van 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 through the water,” Martinez said. “Mr. Brandon Haskell, who is two-year-old Brianna’s grandfather, rushed from the shore. As the vehicle was sinking, he managed to pull her out of the vehicle. The other boy, Lucas, 9 years, was able to get out himself, but as the vehicle continued to be submerged, Paxton was unable 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 ranger for 25 years. Donnell said he had no intention of being there. He wanted to continue fishing, but stormy skies prompted him to head for the shore.

“Luckily I was in the marina in my kayak and there was a van parked on the boat ramp and I noticed it was starting to move slowly into the lake,” Donnell said, adding that there was “a lot of chaos, a lot of people shouting and screaming.

Donnell said he quickly paddled and dove into the water.

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

He dived seven times. Some truck doors were locked. He tried to break a window. He didn’t give up. So what…

“I smelled clothes. So I knew I had it. So I grabbed him, I pulled him against my body. I swam backwards out of the truck, surfaced, took it to shore where myself, my wife and two bystanders started doing CPR.

These two passers-by were two neighbors, Chance Peterson and Fionna Pierce. Pierce was also trained in emergency response. She was with the New Zealand Coastguard for five years and trained as a maritime doctor in search and rescue.

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

Pierce’s training has begun. They performed CPR for 10-15 minutes before the medical helicopter arrived.

“I feel so exceptionally lucky to have been able to, I guess, be emotionally removed from the situation,” Pierce noted. “I know there were a lot of people in shock that I was able to help in a small way that materialized to be the best possible outcome. It’s very upsetting for me to see this little boy that I saw last time was very sick. Seeing him now is amazing.

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

Paxton Knight plays with a puppy before a press conference honoring the four people who helped save him on August 22.

He didn’t speak at the press conference but smiled and played with a puppy. Paxton also posed for photos 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,” Martinez said. “It’s such a special story. They were the right people at the right time to do what they had to do to save this young man. So we’re here to say thank you to those brave men and women who risked their lives to save the life of another.

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


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