Rockland District High School football teammates John Gerry and Brandon Knight finished their lasagna but skipped dessert during their traditional pregame dinner last Friday.
The teenage boys exited the school cafeteria into the parking lot. Knight had parked closer than Gerry and offered him a lift to his truck across the lot. Gerry was weighed down by bulky bags and backpacks strapped around his neck, so instead of getting into the car, he hopped onto the hood for a ride across the high school parking lot.
Everything was fine until the boys neared Gerry’s truck.
The car slowed, Gerry slid off the Toyota’s hood and let his left foot hit the gravel, thinking the car was coming to a stop. His size 17 foot immediately stuck on a rock, then the still-moving Toyota’s bumper knocked Gerry face down on the parking lot gravel. The tires kept rolling, one right onto the 17-year-old’s back — above his pelvis, but below his ribs — where the car finally halted.
Gerry yelled to his friend to back up. Knight couldn’t. The car was jacked up atop the 6-foot-4, 230-pound teenager with one front tire on top of him and the other spinning in the air. Gerry was trapped.
Knight jumped out of the driver’s seat and bolted back to the cafeteria, which was still full of football teammates ready for dessert.
“Call 911! John is in trouble!” he yelled at them.
“At first I thought he was joking,” said football teammate Billy Kelly.
But Kelly and other players realized he wasn’t kidding and they ran to the Toyota that was crushing Gerry.
“All I could see was his book bag. He was screaming, ‘Get this thing off me!’” Kelly said Tuesday. “We grabbed the side of the car and lifted it off John.”
About six teammates and a couple of parents tilted the car up so it rested on its two passenger-side tires and they held it there, off Gerry’s back. Gerry slipped out of consciousness.
“I heard him taking a breath,” said teammate Seth Batty, who helped lift the car. “The car was on his lungs and was choking him pretty much. It was crazy.”
And for about 20 minutes while they waited for EMTs to arrive, the teammates held the car up to keep it from falling back on their friend.
“We thought he might be dead. He wasn’t moving. It looked really bad,” Kelly said.
A parent pulled the teenager’s body away from the car so that if it came crashing down it would land on only his legs.
“They didn’t want to move him too far and hurt anything else,” Batty said.
The teammates continued to talk to the unconscious Gerry, telling him everything was going to be OK, to be strong and that help was coming as they waited. And waited.
When paramedics arrived around 6:20 p.m. Gerry was regaining consciousness.
“I remember when the paramedics came over, when they said, ‘Can you say your name?’ and he said his name and date of birth — it was a relief,” Batty said.
The EMTs brought Gerry to Penobscot Bay Medical Center, where nurses flushed gravel out of his eyes and treated his lower back, which had held up the Toyota’s front end.
All Gerry remembers is when he first hit the ground and seeing the tire next to his face spin and spin. He remembers vomiting and then seeing the flashing ambulance lights.
The next day, Saturday, his team played in Calais and won. They presented the hospitalized Gerry with the game ball signed by each of the players.
Gerry suffered some soft tissue damage on his lower back and lots of bruises, but no broken bones or any permanent damage. He is walking now, though with some pain in his back. He was released from the hospital Monday afternoon and the doctors say he can go back to school when he feels up to it. He hopes to return today or Thursday.
Gerry won’t play in the Oct. 22 football game against Old Town, but if Rockland makes the playoffs, the co-captain said he will be in his orange-and-black jersey for the Tigers.
The 17-year-old is the first to admit that jumping on the hood of his friend’s car wasn’t smart.
“My team is getting glory for lifting a car off me, but the point is if I didn’t jump on the car, none of this would have happened,” Gerry said Tuesday, a day after he was released from the hospital. “It could have turned out a lot worse. It’s amazing I didn’t have any broken bones.”
The school is using this as a teachable moment. They held a conference with the teammates and with local emergency personnel to talk about the incident. Although Principal Tom Forti said the accident shouldn’t have happened, he called the actions of the teammates “heroic.” Athletic Director Jim Leonard agreed.
“That was the biggest win in this football program’s history,” he said. “They came up big when they needed to.”