Cloquet native to receive ‘Hero of the Year’ award“Chunks of concrete were raining down like hailstones,” said Cloquet native Mike Sylvester of the runaway car he witnessed careening through Duluth’s Lincoln Park neighborhood in February.
By: Wendy Johnson, Pine Journal
“Chunks of concrete were raining down like hailstones,” said Cloquet native Mike Sylvester of the runaway car he witnessed careening through Duluth’s Lincoln Park neighborhood in February.
Sylvester, former Pine Journal editor and now a Duluth mail carrier, recently earned a “Hero of the Year Award” from the National Association of Letter Carriers after he jumped in to help save the lone occupant of the vehicle.
In September, Sylvester and his wife will travel to Washington, D.C. for an expenses-paid week to receive his award at a special banquet with Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe. Sylvester views the award with typical modesty, however.
“I was happy to help out,” he said. “It was pretty much a miracle she was still alive.”
Sylvester was about to start his mail route around 9:45 a.m. on the morning of Feb. 4 when he spotted what turned out to be a vehicle out of control skidding down the sidewalk and hitting street signs, with snow and dirt flying everywhere in its wake.
“I looked up and saw a cloud of debris, and it took me a few seconds to realize what was happening,” related Sylvester. “It looked like the midst of a bombing attack.”
The car, driven by 74-year-old Linda Gustafson of Duluth, had reportedly lost its brakes and plummeted for what Sylvester said had to have been about eight to nine blocks, crashing into obstacles as she went along, in an effort to stop the forward motion of the car.
“It was a Saturday morning,” said Sylvester, “and it’s generally very busy on that corner, but it wasn’t that day. Lincoln Park School is in that neighborhood as well, and thankfully, school wasn’t in session because there are often kids out and about on the sidewalks as well.”
Finally, the driver crashed the car up against a power pole at the corner of West Third Street and 24th Avenue West, ran into an apartment building and ruptured a natural gas meter.
“She must have ruptured the gas tank on her car as well,” said Sylvester, “because there was gasoline leaking down the gutter. I clearly remember someone yelling that the gas was leaking. People started to scatter.”
Sylvester said the car’s battery came sliding toward him as he jumped out of his delivery truck and called 911 as he was running across the street.
“My adrenaline was pumping and it was running through my head if I could remember how to do CPR,” admitted Sylvester.
He and another onlooker hastily closed in on the vehicle. He said the glass was broken on the driver’s side door, the frame of the door was bent, there was smoke coming from beneath the hood and the car’s interior was completely crushed.
“The rescue workers later said they thought it was a Toyota Camry,” said Sylvester, “but the damage was so bad they weren’t really sure.”
He said Gustafson was obviously injured but conscious and groggy.
“I asked her, ‘Are you OK? Can you move?’” related Sylvester.
When she indicated she thought she was able to move, the one man worked to free her from her seat belt while Sylvester worked on the wedged door. Though onlookers warned that there could be an explosion any time soon, nothing blew up, and the two men helped Gustafson out of the car and with one of them on each side of her, they were able to guide her away from further harm and into an ambulance while a fire truck sprayed foam on the vehicle.
“My heart was still pounding from the adrenaline rush,” said Sylvester. “I asked her if she had any relatives to call, and she said her husband. I called him, and since they live in the Piedmont area he was able to respond fairly quickly.”
At that point, Sylvester and the other man who helped out with the rescue shook hands and Sylvester went on to finish his mail route. As it turned out, a fellow mail carrier had happened upon the scene, and he relayed the information about the rescue to their supervisor. The incident was later submitted by the union’s Duluth president, Scott Dulas, for the May issue of the National Association of Letter Carriers’ monthly newsletter, the Postal Record, as part of its “Proud to Serve” feature about postal carriers who have gone above and beyond the call of duty to help out others.
“Apparently an independent board reads through all of the ‘Proud to Serve’ articles from the year and selects three of the people featured as ‘Heroes of the Year,’” said Sylvester. “A couple of weeks ago I was on vacation when our national union office called and said I had been selected as the Central States Hero of the Year.”
Since only three heroes are honored each year, Sylvester finds himself in some pretty refined company.
“It’s a nice honor,” he said, “and I’m really flattered. For the last eight years that I’ve been a mail carrier, I’ve read all the stories about mail carriers who have administered CPR, saved lives and foiled armed robberies. To be considered in that same category is pretty humbling.”
Sylvester said after an article about his award appeared last week in the Duluth News Tribune, he received a phone call from Gustafson and her husband, Wayne, who didn’t realize up until that time that anyone other than the emergency personnel had been instrumental in getting Linda out of the car. He said both were quite emotional in thanking him for his efforts.
“Linda told me she would very likely have died and that I helped save her life,” said Sylvester. “Sometimes getting that personal phone call means as much as anything.”
Mike Creger of Forum Communications contributed to this story.