By CHUCK CANNON
Command information officer
FORT POLK, La. — July 4 was a typical day for Pvt. Devan Tillotson, a military policeman with Fort Polk’s 519th Military Police Battalion. The 19-year old was wrapping up leave with his family in Connecticut and preparing to head back to his duty station in Louisiana.
Tillotson’s mom, Carla Keim, headed out early in the morning of July 5 for a normally uneventful trip down Interstate 84 to take her son to the nearest airport when things suddenly took a turn.
“It was about 4:45 a.m. and we noticed a motorcycle had pulled over off to the side of the road up ahead of us,” Tillotson. “It was in an area that was not well lit, sort of between two light poles.”
At the same time he saw the motorcyclist standing beside his bike, Tillotson said a car passed him and his mother at a high rate of speed and struck the motorcycle rider and his bike.
The force of the impact caused the four-wheeled vehicle’s right front tire to explode, and sending the tire’s rim flying over the guardrail. Incredibly, the driver kept going — on three wheels — and fled the scene.
“I saw the motorcycle flying and could tell the rider was hurt,” Tillotson said. “We stopped and I ran back to him and could tell he was bleeding pretty badly from his head, along with other injuries.”
Calling on his military training and working late nights helping his mother study to become an emergency medical technician, Tillotson said he ran back to his mother’s car, grabbed a belt from the pants he planned to wear for the flight to Fort Polk, then returned to the injured cyclist and applied a tourniquet, stemming the flow of blood — all while he and the victim were mere inches from the Interstate.
“I was begging my son to get off the road as vehicles, including 18-wheelers, were flying by him,” Keim said. “I was terrified, and sure we were all going to be hit.”
Keim said she used the light on her cell phone to try and signal traffic to slow down, but was unsuccessful — the motorists were too busy trying to avoid debris from the crash that spread across the roadway.”
“I begged Devan to walk away and get out of the road,” she said. “He looked me right in the eyes and said, ‘Mom, I got it.’ He would not leave this man’s side.”
While jumping out of the car and running to the injured man’s side and rendering first aid were heroic in her eyes, Keim said the thing that impressed her the most about her son was that he did it without thinking of his own safety.
“I learned a lot about scene safety in my EMT course,” she said. “This horrific scene was hands-down the most unsafe scene I have ever been on, made much worse by my child right there. I don’t know a lot about military awards, but I know a hero when I see one and my son is a hero.”
Bret Snyder, the motorcyclist who was injured agreed.
“My younger brother passed away August of 2018,” Snyder said. “When I realized I was alive, I said to myself, ‘I’m not going to die; I don’t want my parents to bury both of their sons within a year.”
Snyder said he owes his life to Tillotson’s quick actions.
“He was superb,” Snyder said. “He kept his composure and never flinched. My youngest son is 20 and in the Marines. He has the same demeanor as Devan — cool, calm and collected.”
Lt. Col. Sonja L. Whitehead, commander, 519th MP Bn, said she was proud of her yong Soldier.
“I’m overwhelmed with the compassion and quick response of this young MP, demonstrating the Warrior Ethos and exactly what we want in every Soldier in our formation,” she said. “He knew what to do to save this stranger’s life, and simply had the courage and compassion to take action.”
After meeting Snyder, Keim said she was reminded of her son.
“Snyder is a hell of a guy, just like Devan,” she said. “Something tells me that if it were my son on the side of the road, the man that was hit, the victim in all of this, he wouldn’t have left my boy either. I visited him in the ICU and he was more concerned that I didn’t get to see my son off at the airport.”
Tillotson said he doesn’t understand what all the fuss surrounding his actions is all about.
“I did what any decent person would have done,” he said. “I had first aid training in the Army, my mother is an EMT and my dad is a police officer. When I saw someone in trouble, I just did what I was supposed to do — render first aid and stay with him until first responders arrived.”
When police and EMTs arrived, Tillotson said one of the first responders asked if he had been the one who placed the tourniquet and applied pressure to the wound.
“I told him, ‘Yes,’ and he said that probably saved him,” Tillotson said.
As for what advice he would give to someone who happens upon a similar scene, Tillotson said, “Don’t be afraid. Let your training take over and do your best. That’s all you can do.”
Sometimes all you can do is enough. Just ask Snyder.