From the moment he watched the van careen over the cliff, Elijah Dicks didn’t have time to stop and think. Dicks, a history professor at Arapahoe Community College, was driving down Highway 285 …
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From the moment he watched the van careen over the cliff, Elijah Dicks didn’t have time to stop and think.
Dicks, a history professor at Arapahoe Community College, was driving down Highway 285 from his home near Evergreen to the college in Littleton on April 8, when an old blue van ahead of him in traffic began veering across lanes.
Seconds later, as the van reached a curve in the highway just west of the intersection with the Morrison road, Dicks watched in horror as it plummeted over the edge toward Turkey Creek far below.
“Everyone in traffic around me slammed on their brakes,” Dicks said. “I was expecting a fireball.”
Dicks pulled onto the shoulder and began running back uphill toward the spot where the van left the road.
“From that point on, I just didn’t stop running,” he said.
Other onlookers stood at the edge of the steep drop-off, some calling 911, but Dicks started down the slope.
“It looked like I was in full sprint,” he said. “I’d be running but then sliding and jumping. Halfway down I got tangled in some old barbed wire, but I just had to keep moving — gravity was still pulling me down.”
At the bottom of the cliff, he reached the van, its front end driven into boulders along the creek, steam and smoke coming from the engine, and the windows filled by deployed airbags.
Dicks steeled himself for what he might find inside the van.
“I thought: what I’m going to see here is going to stick with me for the rest of my life,” he said.
As he wrenched open the driver’s door, he saw an old man’s face behind the airbag.
Dicks peppered him with questions: Are you OK? How many in the car? What happened?
The man, 85-year-old Gerry Thiry of Conifer, whimpered back: “I can’t breathe.”
Looking back up the slope, Dicks saw nobody else was coming down. The onlookers stood peering down onto the scene.
Again and again, Thiry moaned: “I can’t breathe.”
“I didn’t know if the van was about to burst into flames,” Dicks said. “I decided: All right, we’re going.”
Dicks climbed over Thiry, unhooked his seatbelt, and pulled the man onto the bank of the creek.
Dicks was afraid Thiry might have broken bones or internal injuries, and told him to stay still. But the adrenaline-fueled octogenarian rolled over and started scrambling up the bank.
“I was trying to hold him down, and I’m not a weak guy, but he would not stay put, so I started helping him up.”
At the top of the embankment, Dicks and first responders were astonished to see Thiry up and walking — and refusing help from paramedics.
Dicks didn’t stick around — after all, he had to get to work.
“I was only 20 minutes late to class,” Dicks said. “I showed up muddy, with my hands covered in blood — I think from the broken glass — and my department chair just said, ‘You’re late. I covered for you.’”
Thiry’s longtime partner Dominique Evers picked him up from the crash scene and took him home to Conifer.
“He’s doing good,” Evers said by phone in early May. “He was pretty sore after going for a ride like that, but he’s doing good. He’s been working on a new shed for our horses.”
Evers said she’s grateful for Dicks’ quick action.
Thiry said he doesn’t remember exactly why he flew out of control on the highway, but said it was a clear sign it’s time for him to hang up his car keys for good.
“I’m 85, and it’s about time to quit,” Thiry said. “I’m lucky I didn’t hurt anyone else.”
Dicks said the experience gave him a sense of value and purpose he hasn’t felt before. He has since applied to join the Evergreen volunteer fire department.
As for Thiry, he said the experience told him it was time to focus on what’s important: “Trying to keep the woman living with me happy.”
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