Submerged vehicle rescuers celebrated with Life Saving Medals from Summit County Sheriff

SUMMIT COUNTY, Utah — On Saturday, September 2, the Summit County Sheriff Department recognized Joe Donnell, Fiona Pierce, and Chance Peterson for saving the life of 9-year-old Paxton Knight after his family’s vehicle was submerged 20 feet under the Smith & Morehouse Reservoir on August 22. All three were awarded a Life Saving Award by Sheriff Justin Martinez alongside Paxton’s smiling face.

The Knight family of five was recreating at Smith & Morehouse Reservoir on August 22 when, according to Sheriff Martinez, their vehicle’s transmission slipped, sending their vehicle into the reservoir with 9-year-olds Lucas and Paxton and 2-year old Brianna still inside. Lucas was able to rescue himself from the vehicle, and the children’s grandfather Brandon Haskell was able to rescue Brianna from the vehicle as it was sinking.

Sheriff Martinez commented that Paxton Knight remained in the vehicle as it sank about 20 feet below the reservoir. Retired Park Ranger Joseph Donnell was on the water as these events unfolded, paddled to the vehicle, and proceeded to make 6 attempts to dive and rescue Paxton from the submerged vehicle. Donnell’s seventh attempt was successful, and he was able to bring Paxton to the shore.

Upon arriving at the shore, Fiona Pierce and Chance Peterson began performing CPR on Paxton until AirMed arrived and evacuated him to Primary Children’s Hospital where he was in “extreme critical condition” and his future “remained unsure,” according to Sheriff Martinez. Sheriff Martinez then told that “after a few days, Paxton regained consciousness, sat up in bed and asked ‘where’s my mother.'” Paxton was released from the hospital fully recovered last Thursday, September 1.

After describing the incident, Sheriff Martinez presented Haskell, Donnell, Pierce, and Peterson with Life Saving Awards, and commended each of them for using their emergency training in a time of need. Sheriff Martinez also repeatedly commended Paxton for his “spirit, tenacity, and fight,” remarking that all adults present “could learn from Paxton.”

When asked for a comment at the event, Donnell remarked that he was “glad God put him there” at the scene where he was able to rescue Paxton.

Joe Donnell and Paxton Knight. Photo by Kevin Cody.

Peterson commented that he and Pierce “were not supposed to be there that day,” but only happened to be on the scene because of various circumstances that seemed random at the time, but allowed both of them to help perform lifesaving procedures to keep Paxton alive until he was evacuated. Pierce remarked that she “did not have words” to describe being at the event with Donnell, Peterson, and Paxton.

Paxton participated in the event with a grin on his face and signature snapback-hat on his head.

Brandon Haskell was also awarded a Life Saving Award for his efforts to save Brianna Knight, but was unable to attend the event.

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