Western hospitality at its finest was on display in Sublette County on a Friday in late June, when a tragic accident allowed local heroes to shine.
On Friday, June 25, the Wyoming Highway Patrol responded to a report that a motorcycle had crashed into a tour bus north of the Hoback Rim near Pinedale.
According to patrol reports, a Big Piney man, 30-year-old Holden Horgan, was killed when his motorcycle crossed into the southbound lane of the highway on a dangerous curve and collided head-on with a tour bus carrying 55 high school students from Missouri.
Horgan was killed instantly — while the high school students and their driver were left on the side of the road, uninjured but traumatized by the crash, but with no severe injuries reported.
A second bus carrying a similar number of students was undamaged, but the trip was halted for all 100 students and their chaperones.
That’s when Pinedale residents came to the rescue, according to Darren Hull, executive director for the Sublette County Chamber of Commerce.
As a volunteer firefighter for the county, Hull was at the scene of the accident and he said he realized that it was going to take some time before another bus would arrive to replace the damaged vehicle.
“We’re sitting there kind of waiting for the investigation to take place,” he said, “and I was thinking well, there’s no reason we can’t help on the other end.
“And so I double checked with the battalion chief that was on scene, he said it was fine, so I called our Visitor Center, and got the staff rolling — knowing it was coming up on dinner time, just kind of figuring out what to do with these kids for the next three hours till the bus came,” he continued
The town of Pinedale kicked into caretaking mode, according to Hull, first taking the students to American Legion Park and then looking for ways to feed them.
“The Visitor Center staff called Ridley’s grocery store, and instead of charging — we just figured we’d pay when we got there — the grocery store just said, ‘Hey, no, no, we’ll just donate,’” he said. “And they actually showed up at the park with the stuff, so that was awesome.”
Hull said the local pizza restaurant, Old Stones, started making pizzas for the stranded students, using the restaurant’s full capacity to make six pizzas at a time.
“They started making them before we were even dispatched from the scene,” Hull said. “And then our Visitor Center staff would pick them up and bring them to American Legion Park, then drive back over, and pick up another six or seven.”
The group of students and adults had concerns in addition to hunger, though, according to Hull — a summer storm had started brewing and the Pinedale hosts realized that they needed to find indoor shelter for their guests.
“There were kids that were starting to get cold, and they were kind of huddled under the park shelters, and so I actually called Jason Burton, who is one of the employees for the Pinedale Aquatic Center,” Hull said. “He got the logistics worked out at the PAC for those 100 kids to descend upon that Aquatic Center with a skeleton crew on a Friday night, no warning. So we were able to move the kids and the rest of the pizzas inside, and they hung out and played basketball.”
The gratitude of the students’ families back in Missouri was overwhelming, according to posts made on the Sublette County Chamber’s Facebook page.
“My kiddo was on this bus,” wrote Shanna Dale. “My momma’s heart is so grateful for the hospitality your community displayed. Wrapped your collective arms around our kids during a tragic situation. Thank you!”
“Thank you for taking care of Columbia’s kids and adults on Friday,” said Meera Sood. “You stepped up in the most generous way possible and defined what it means to be a community. You set the bar high for how we care for each other and led by example. We are forever grateful! Sympathy for the motorcycle rider’s family.”
Hull said his contacts developed through his job with the chamber of commerce allowed him to set the rescue operation in motion.
“Being from Missouri, they obviously didn’t know where to go, what to do, and being stressed out, so we just took it off their plate,” he said.
He added the generosity of the community isn’t surprising.
“You see it over and over, the generosity of Sublette County,” he said. “And you don’t even really think about it, just kind of what the community does. And people say, ‘Oh man, I wish my community was like that,’ and you realize that maybe it is special, that people will bend over backwards to help each other out and to help strangers.”