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Montana deputy recalls gut feeling that led to saving hypothermic man

Posted at 10:32 AM, Mar 19, 2019
and last updated 2019-03-19 12:33:54-04

BIG TIMBER – For the first time since saving a man’s life, Sweet Grass County Deputy Cody Criner talked openly about what led him to go back and search a cold and snowy car parked at an Interstate 90 rest area.

“A lot of times you’ll come through here and you’ll see vehicles that are parked here, and they will stay parked here for several days,” said Criner.

This time it was different.

On February 6, Criner was out checking what he thought was an abandoned car at a rest stop on Interstate 90 near Big Timber.

Criner spotted a Toyota Prius and had a gut feeling.

“I don’t know if it was part of the cold or power above,” he said.

The car was covered in snow, and the hood and the exhaust were frozen over. The car hadn’t been warm for hours.

As Criner moved closer to the car he spotted the hand of a 33-year-old man. His eyes were rolled into the back of his head and he wasn’t responding as Criner pounded on the window.

The temperatures on that particular day were 10 degrees below freezing.

“I could see that he was kind of having some body tremors,” said Criner.

Sheriff Alan Ronneberg said the man was traveling from Washington state to Florida where his mom lives. He believes the man could have had drugs in his system and was possibly trying to harm himself.

Criner knew that because of the way the man looked and because of the frigid temperatures, time was crucial so he sprang into action.

Ronnenberg said Criner used a hammer to bust out a passenger window to give hypothermia care to the man until an ambulance arrived.

“I grabbed a hammer and then I broke the passenger window. Covered him with as many blankets as I could, tried to talk to him,” said Criner.

The deputies regularly keep emergency blankets in their vehicle, said Ronneberg. Criner covered the unconscious driver with everything he had and even placed the beanie from his own head onto the victim.

Oftentimes, deputies are called to check on dozen of abandoned vehicles each week, but never is anybody inside.

Ronneberg took the opportunity to give credit to his deputies for the work they do.

As for the man in the car, Ronneberg said they aren’t sure how he’s doing, but they knows he’s getting the care he needs.

“Hope things are going well for him now and he was able to get down to Florida, which is where he was trying to get to,” said Criner.

Deputy Cody Criner was awarded the Sweet Grass County Sheriff’s Office Meritorious Service Award.

-Reported by Andrea Lutz/MTN News