Tom Hutchings was driving home just north of Cheyenne on Interstate 25 on July 18 when he went into cardiac arrest. His heart had just stopped beating, which set in motion a series of events that brought four total strangers together and saved Tom’s life.
For all those involved, there just seemed to be something more at work that day.
John Ysebaert was driving up I-25 on his way to the gym that afternoon. In the Army, Ysebaert served a tour in Iraq and another in Afghanistan.
His brother had given him a hatchet the previous Christmas. He’d put the gift in his truck and completely forgot, after six months, to take it into his house.
Ahead of him, he saw a black Toyota Highlander veer into the median and slam against the cables. The truck came to rest with the tires spinning gravel as if the gas was stuck.
Without thinking, Ysebaert pulled up to the wrecked Highlander and got out to help.
At the same moment, Matt Watts was driving up I-25 on his way to pick up his son. Watts had gone into the Marines straight after high school. He served two tours in Afghanistan and two tours in Iraq. He now serves in the Army National Guard.
July 18 is a difficult day for him. It was the same day he lost a close friend in Afghanistan.
“It’s always a somber day. That time of year is always a little rough,” he told Cowboy State Daily.
He offered no more details other than the stiff stare of a soldier who doesn’t want to talk about what happened.
Watts saw the vehicle in the median, the wheels kicking up a cloud of smoke.
“I just looked to my left and I was like, ‘Is that car on fire?’” Watts said.
He was going too fast to stop, but like Ysebaert, Watts never debated whether he should help.
He pulled off at the Vandehei Street exit, Exit 13, turned around, and came back down the ramp to get to the smoking vehicle.
On The Scene
As Watts came down the ramp, he saw Ysebaert running up to the car.
Watts said that he knew, just from looking at him, that Ysebaert had military training.
“I knew I could trust him,” Watts said.
They knocked on the window, and the man in the vehicle was unresponsive. They needed to get inside, but the doors were locked. Watts started thinking they needed to find a baseball bat or something to break a window.
That’s when Ysebaert remembered he still had the hatchet his brother gave him for Christmas. He broke out the rear passenger window and climbed through the window.
The wheels continued spinning in the gravel while he tried to get inside the vehicle. Both of the men were worried the car would dislodge and zoom off with Ysebaert hanging out the window.
Ysebaert unlocked the doors and pulled the unconscious driver’s foot off the gas.
There was a third person who stopped to help that day. His identity remains a mystery. He was dressed in western wear, so they all refer to him as the “country fellow.” It was during Cheyenne Frontier Days, so he might have been competing in rodeos.
Whoever he was, he was another piece of good fortune that day. It was no easy task pulling Hutchings from the vehicle, but with the help of this third mystery hero, the three of them were able to get him out of the car.
Watts’ wife is pregnant, and he was concerned about giving mouth to mouth to a stranger. He didn’t know what caused him to go unconscious, and the last thing he wanted to do was bring something home that would get his family sick.
Watts started giving CPR, but in yet another odd piece of good fortune that day, the “country fellow” had breathing apparatus.
So Watts started rescue breathing on Hutchings, while Ysebaert took over on CPR.
“It’s just weird how it all happened,” Watts said.
A couple miles away, an ambulance was parked at the Sinclair gas station across the street from the governor’s mansion, right off I-25.
While Watts and Ysebaert performed CPR, the ambulance sped toward the wreck.
At the scene of the accident, Ysebaert and Watts stepped back as the paramedics took over. They didn’t expect Hutchings to survive, they would later tell him.
A crowd had gathered at the scene by this point, and when law enforcement arrived, a deputy was concerned people would start taking video to post on social media. So, he told everyone to leave the area.
Watts was among those in the crowd and he asked how he might find out if this man would survive.
The officer told him these things usually don’t go well, and asked him to leave.
Once he was out of the hospital and on his feet again, Hutchings thanked all the paramedics, law enforcement, doctors, nurses, and others who helped him that day.
The deputy who had dispersed the crowd was able to show Tom and his wife, Lynn, the body cam footage from that day. In the video, Tom saw himself lying on the ground as paramedics gave him CPR.
“It was amazing,” Lynn told Cowboy State Daily.
In that video, they could hear the trooper asking people to leave and this one man wanting to know how he could find out if the man would survive.
After that day, Watts searched obituaries hoping to find out the identity of the man in the accident. In Tom’s vehicle, Watts had seen an Air Force cap, and so he figured the man was also a veteran. Thinking Tom had died, it brought back memories of the friend he lost in Afghanistan.
“I just kept thinking, ‘I hope he survived. I hope he survived. I hope he survived,’” Watts said.
Tom had no memory of the accident or the next few days after. While he got to thank all the people who helped him, he didn’t get to thank the man who pulled him from the vehicle and gave him CPR. He originally thought it was one man, but no one could say who he was.
After Cowboy State Daily ran a story on Tom’s search for this Good Samaritan, friends and family of Watts and Ysebaert eventually got in touch with Hutchings.
The three of them finally met up at a restaurant.
“I was just giddy when I met them,” Tom told Cowboy State Daily. “I was telling the waitress and the lady who owned the place what they did for me. I was just so proud of these guys. Just so proud.”
For Watts and Ysebaert, it was like seeing a man rise out of his grave. The last time they saw him, he was technically dead.
“Yeah, it was surreal,” Watts said.
Hey, I’m Here
A few good people happened to be in the right place at the right time, with the right tools, to help Tom. His odds of survival were very low, except for a series of fortunate events.
For the Hutchings, there’s no question that it was God’s hand that made sure all these things fell into place.
Watts said he isn’t a religious man, but the experience has him thinking about his faith.
“I’ve been through some strange situations, where like, maybe this is God saying, ‘Hey, I’m here,’” Watts said.
Lynn and Tom are grateful that Ysebaert, Watts and this mystery “country fellow” put themselves in danger to rescue a complete stranger. Lynn said they are heroes in her and her husband’s mind.
“There are people who do heroic acts in their jobs, but these guys did a heroic act outside of their jobs,” Lynn said. “They responded and did so in a way that has forever changed all of our lives.”