By Tim Leeds/Havre Daily Newsemail@example.com
A Hays man said being trapped in his pickup for five days has given him some new beliefs, including more faith in God and a desire to wear a seat belt.
Eric Hawley, 28, was trapped in his 1979 GMC pickup after it went down a steep embankment about 11 p.m. on Sept. 4, about 10 miles south of Hays. The pickup landed on its top and the cab was crushed, sealing the doors shut. He was found the morning of Sept. 9, trapped inside the crushed cab, able to wriggle around but without enough room to sit up.
He said his ability to endure the ordeal came from "a strong will to survive and a little bit of help from someone upstairs. A lot of help, really."
Hawley, who suffered minor injuries, said he survived by keeping his mind busy remembering things he had done and wants to do. He used a vacuum tube and a sponge to draw water from a creek.
Hawley said he wasn't very religious before the crash, but that has changed.
"I am definitely a believer now," he said.
Hawley said he wasn't wearing a seat belt when the accident occurred, but thinks he will start wearing one now.
Hawley said he began driving toward Lewistown late Sept. 4 to go to a Metis celebration. Metis are people of mixed French-Canadian and American Indian heritage.
Before he'd driven very far, he decided it was getting too late at night and turned around to head home.
He was tuning in a radio station when a deer appeared on the road, causing him to swerve, he said.
"Other than that, I don't remember too much except for waking up the next morning," Hawley said.
Montana Highway Patrol officer Scott Waddell, who investigated the crash, said he found no evidence that Hawley had swerved.
"We have no tire marks on the road to indicate braking or skidding," Waddell said.
He said he suspects that Hawley fell asleep and his pickup drifted off the road.
He added that a Fort Belknap police officer had seen Hawley at 6 p.m. that night in Hays after Hawley had been drinking.
Hawley said he'd been drinking the afternoon of the crash, but had slept before he left to go to Lewistown and was sober while driving.
Hawley was cited for driving with a suspended license, careless driving, failure to wear a seat belt and failure to carry proof of insurance.
Hawley said the pickup went down a 70-foot embankment and landed on its top in a stream. When he woke up, he was lying on his back with gasoline and oil dripping on his face.
He immediately found he could not open the pickup's doors.
"The first couple of days I kicked and did whatever I could to get the doors open and it just wasn't happening," he said.
He had no major injuries - a concussion, a broken finger, a cut on his hand.
"I was pretty fortunate not to have any serious injuries," he added.
He said it was hard to stay calm, especially during the first couple of days.
"I would catch myself on the verge of panicking and losing control," Hawley said.
He said the discipline he learned in four years in the U.S. Marine Corps helped him keep control.
He said hunger wasn't really a problem, but by the third day, he was suffering from dehydration.
"I improvised a little drinking devise," Hawley said.
He pulled a vacuum hose from under his dashboard, tied some foam padding he cut from his pickup's seat to it, and stuck it out of the pickup to soak up water from the stream.
Meanwhile, a search had begun.
His father, Ron Hawley, said he realized Sept. 7 that his son was missing when Eric didn't go to work or call to say he would miss work.
"When he didn't call, we knew something was wrong," he said.
Ron Hawley and a few others started searching, and the search soon expanded to a major operation, he said.
Eric Hawley's aunt, Kathie Hawley, said members of the Fort Belknap tribal government helped organize the search and gave leave to employees to participate.
"When something happens we all pull together and do whatever we can," she said.
Eric Hawley's mother, Kathy Hawley, said she had just about given up hope by the time he was found.
"It had been five days. We were thinking the worst. It was just a miracle," she said.
On Sept. 9, Hawley heard a vehicle on the highway begin to slow down.
"I made every noise I could," he said.
Leonard Seaford, who was checking on the effect of some weed spraying that had been done in the area the week before, heard the sounds, Hawley said.
Seaford stopped two other people who were driving by, and drove his pickup down to the creek, Hawley said. Seaford attached a chain to Hawley's pickup's door and pulled it off.
Hawley said Seaford drove him to a nearby ranch house, and called the Fort Belknap Police Department. An ambulance arrived about 20 minutes later and transported him to Fort Belknap hospital.
He stayed in the hospital for two days, he said.
Hawley had an appointment in Billings today to have his finger worked on. It healed incorrectly while he was trapped in the pickup. He said the doctors planned to reset the break and insert pins to make sure it heals properly.
Kathie Hawley said he survived against all odds.
"I am just astonished how he could survive after seeing the pickup," she said. "To see the inside of that truck It's a miracle he's still alive."
Hawley said he is excited about telling his story.
"It's a story that needs to be told," he said. "People need to have faith. Everything always works out. Things are probably never as bad as they seem."