During Bus Ride, Fifth Grade Boy Spots Odd Scene Along Roadside And It Ends Up Saving A Life
Fifth grader Jerald Withers wasn’t so different from other kids his age. On most days, he concerned himself with homework, household chores and routing for his beloved Green Bay Packers. The difference between Jerald and the other kids, though, was his vigilance, empathy and maturity. He often noticed things they didn’t, and sometimes that could get him in trouble. But one fated day, something peculiar caught Jerald’s eye on his way home from school—something he simply couldn’t ignore. At first, a responsible adult dismissed his concern about the peculiar sight but he persisted still, and it would change more than just his life forever.
1. After A Long Day
Eleven-year-old Jerald Withers was headed back home on the school bus after a long day when he noticed something that the other kids didn’t. On a normal day, the young Festus, Missouri native’s responsibilities didn’t extend much beyond keeping his grades up and doing chores around the house. But it would turn out to be anything but a normal day.
It was smack in the middle of November 2017, and the boy had unintentionally stumbled upon a matter of life and death while his classmates were distracted with the usual fifth-grader antics. Jerald wasn’t sure what he had seen at the time, but he would come face-to-face with a nevertheless. And it’d be a matter of life and death.
2. The Fated Moment
While his peers on the school bus were engaged in typical pre-teen activities, like jamming to music on their earbuds and cracking bad jokes, Jerald Withers was looking out the window and enjoying the view. He wasn’t like them—according to his mother and grandfather, he was remarkably mature for his age.
An odd scene caught his eye while he was peering through the bus window, but it wasn’t immediately clear what he was looking at. The boy actually had to lean forward and squint to get a better look and make sure he was seeing clearly. That’s when the fleeting roadside anomaly would make him do a double take.
3. Busted Wide Open
When Jerald understood he wasn’t dreaming, he refocused his eyes and mentally took note of the sight before him on the bridge his bus was passing. The first detail that stood out was that the guardrail over the bridge appeared totally busted on its end, leaving an opening into the vast landscape behind it.
Only something incredibly powerful could have caused such a dent, but Jerald wasn’t sure what that force could have been. After all, it’s not a scene the boy had encountered many times in his life. As he honed in on the spectacle, he noticed that there was something else just past the railing too. He tried to catch a glimpse before the bus drove away.
4. Broken Bits
Once Jerald got over his initial shock, he noticed something else. There seemed to be bits of broken machinery scattered just off the side of the road. As the bus continued moving, Jerald struggled to figure out what the machinery was, and where it might have come from.
Still, there was more to be seen beyond the remains of whatever was at the side of the bridge due to something that’d happened just a few hours earlier. There seemed to be some kind of mysterious figure lying out in the field beyond the railing, just a few steps away from the scattered pieces. Was it an animal, an object, a person?
5. Alerting The Driver
Whatever was lying out there in the field didn’t necessarily look like an animal to Jerald Withers. As the responsible young man he was raised to be, he couldn’t keep such a thing to himself in good conscious. Someone needed to know what he had seen, and it wasn’t going to be the kid next to him.
He ran up the narrow bus aisle to alert the driver to what he had just seen. The man assured Jerald it must have been just a deer. Not to worry, he told the boy, everything would be just fine. The bus was already whizzing away from the scene and, well that was that. Except it wasn’t.
6. Jerald Unsettled
Jerald was certain he had seen that needed urgent attention, and it wasn’t a deer. Once he got home, the fifth grader was on the verge of panic. He knew the bus driver had wrongly dismissed him, and he knew what could be at stake if nothing were done about it.
While many kids would have simply let the issue go, put off by the response of the bus driver, Jerald couldn’t stop thinking about the scene he had encountered. Sinking into the couch and watching a random show on Netflix wasn’t an option that evening. But while the Festus Intermediate School student was mature on the inside, he was still just a kid. What else was there for him to do?
7. Motherly Instinct
Slouching in front of the television, it seemed Jerald Withers had accepted his fate. Jared was at an age that most children are still learning about right and wrong, yet his moral compass seemed to have already developed to a level far beyond his years. Faced with a conundrum, Jared couldn’t just wave off his feelings.
That’s when Jerald’s mother, Brandy Overturf, noticed the troubled expression on her son’s face while he sat there alone in the living room. She figured something must have happened to him at school that day, so she sat him down to figure out what was the matter. But would he tell her the truth?
8. Confiding In Brandy
Fighting back tears, Jerald Withers told his mother about what he had seen on the way back from school, and confided in her that he feared someone or something was in danger and no one was doing anything about it. Of course, kids make up stories and misunderstand situations all the time.
But Brandy knew her son well, and she could tell when Jerald was truly struggling. She didn’t dismiss her son’s concerns as quickly as the bus driver had earlier. And she was right not to. What would happen next would prove the bus driver had potentially made a fatal mistake.
9. Jerald Takes Action
Brandy Overturf not only took her son at his word, but she allowed him to act on his gut feelings. If there were someone or something out there in danger and she hadn’t allowed her son to help, she wouldn’t ever be able to forgive herself.
After Jerald told his mother about the damaged guardrail, broken machinery and the figure he saw, she allowed him to pick up the phone and call 911. The boy explained to police dispatch everything he had seen. The moment he’d finally learn for certain what he had seen earlier in the day on his ride back from school was soon approaching.
10. Hitting The Road
After Jerald’s call, the Missouri State Highway Patrol hit the road in a hurry, searching for the mysterious scene the boy had described to them. It’s law enforcement’s job to take such calls very seriously—even when they are made by children.
Although Jerald didn’t know the exact location of the scene, he was able to verbally illustrate it well enough for the officers to get an idea of how it would look when they arrived, and they were able to start with his bus route home from school. What they would find would prove it was a good thing the fifth grader had decided to act on his instinct.
11. A Totaled Motorcycle
State troopers scanned the bus route Jerald Withers rode to school every day of his life until they finally arrived at the bridge the boy had told them about, and it looked just the way he had described it. It turned out the broken parts Jerald had seen were remains of a totaled motorcycle.
Bits and pieces of its machinery were scattered around its destroyed body. It quickly became apparent to police that the bike wasn’t just one man’s trash left to be picked up as another man’s treasure—something had gone seriously wrong on this bridge. Then they noticed something else.
12. A Man In The Ditch
After the state troopers inspected the beat-up bike, they noticed something lying in a ditch not far from the little bridge. It was almost too bad Jerald wasn’t there to see it for himself, because it turned out he was right—the insoluble figure he had seen earlier clearly wasn’t a deer.
It was the motorcyclist! His helmet remained on his head as he lay there still, not moving at all. The troopers called Jerald and Brandy to give them a quick update on the event they had called in. The officers had to act quickly, as the motorcyclist’s situation didn’t look good. The man was obviously seriously injured.
13. Rescue Mission
After police notified them of the event, paramedics rushed to the scene of the accident, hoping it wasn’t too late. It turned out the motorcyclist was identified as a man named Billy McMahan. He was indeed still alive, but his situation was as dire as the troopers had feared.
Jerald and Brandy waited patiently for updates on what was happening, though there were few considering the urgency of the situation Billy McMahan was in—the focus was on saving his life. Paramedics rushed the motorcyclist to Mercy Hospital Jefferson in Festus, driving as fast as they could. Would he make it through to see another day?
14. Out Of Their Hands
With the biker’s fate out of their hands, Brandy took Jerald home and hoped for the best. But Jerald still wouldn’t let it go. He was worried about the man he had seen, wishing he could have done something to help earlier than he had.
Jerald’s grandfather, Bob Bruenger, comforted the boy that evening as he remained down. Bob was a biker himself, and he’d hoped his words would calm Jerald down a little. Motorcycles are dangerous, he told Jerald, and they could only pray Billy would be alright. Just then, the sound of the telephone ringing cut off Bob’s words.
15. The Call
Jerald was so nervous he must have ran to the phone to answer—it was the hospital. Against all odds, the caller told the Withers family that Billy McMahan was going to make it! Even though he had been wearing a helmet at the time of the accident, the force of the crash was enough to seriously injure him.
But thanks to Jerald’s initiative, police found him at the right time and it seemed that he was going to be okay. Jerald was incredibly relieved—those were the words he had been waiting to hear all evening. And that wasn’t all the hospital said. It turned out Billy had been in even more trouble than the Withers knew.
16. The Crash Itself
Motorcyclist Billy McMahan of Bonne Terre had been riding his Honda CBR1100XX motorcycle eastbound on Route P in Festus when his bike flew off the highway and took him along for the unfortunate excursion. And that’s exactly where state troopers found him thanks to Jerald.
But it turned out he had been there for quite some time—his bike was totally cold by the time police got to him. Hospital staff told Brandy that, if not for her son’s brave intervention, Billy could have easily frozen to death in the ditch. The biker was immensely grateful, too, and wanted to show the boy his gratitude.
17. A Bond Forged Through Kindness
After Billy McMahan finally came to, he was told about Jerald Withers’ role in finding him. He was astounded to learn that a young boy’s courage and kindness saved him from the perils that the brutal winter cold could have brought had he remained in the ditch.
Billy’s life had flashed before his eyes, but thanks to an 11-year-old’s stubborn selflessness, state troopers found him and paramedics were able to save him. He needed to show Jerald his utmost gratitude. So Billy actually decided to call and personally thank Jerald for his bravery. But he wasn’t the only one to do so.
18. Local Hero
Tales of the young hero began to spread around town shortly after the rescue mission, and Festus celebrated Jerald Withers as a local hero. Of course, Jerald didn’t do it for the praise, but there was still a whole lot of it coming his way. The townspeople admired the way he had been raised—the entire ordeal raised their spirits.
One total stranger named Rob Bates even gave the boy tickets to a St. Louis Cardinals baseball game for his good deed. Soon enough, the story that touched the hearts of Festus locals expanded far beyond the town. And someone else would reach out to Jerald.
19. Media Sensation
As tales of Jerald’s heroism circulated, he and Billy McMahan began to grab headlines everywhere. It started with local media running the story. KSDK, a St. Louis-based, NBC-affiliated television station, interviewed the Withers family about their life-changing experience in Festus.
The headline glared: “Boy called life-saver for spotting man injured in motorcycle crash.” Of course, headlines like that don’t just stay local these days. Jerald’s tale spread like wildfire as soon as it was posted online, and now people all over the world knew his name. It wasn’t long before Jerald caught the attention of someone who would surprise him like he’d never been surprised before.
20. Dream Come True
Jerald Withers had been a Green Bay Packers football fan his entire life. But when his mother told him he had received a package from the Green Bay Packers office one day, the boy must have thought it was some kind of mistake. Still, he eagerly tore apart the envelope in front of him nevertheless.
The Green Bay Packers office, too, had apparently heard of the account and discovered Jerald was a long-time fan, so they sent him an autographed photo of quarterback Aaron Rodgers, along with a box full of Packers gear. He couldn’t believe his eyes. And how Jerald reacted after all the commotion was truly touching.
21. The Hero Speaks
When KSDK interviewed Jerald Withers, it was touching how happy he was that Billy made it through his horrible accident. He was truly relieved that the situation was over. He was proud of himself for what he had done, and thankful that Billy had survived. He even said he’d be interested in seeing Billy again one day.
“I would just tell him that I’m thankful that I saw him,” Jerald said. “It’s just crazy to think about that he could have died and that he’s alive right now. It’s really cool.” And the young boy’s mother and grandfather had some insights to share about the event itself, too.
22. About That Night
In the initial news story about that cold night in Festus, Jerald’s grandfather, Bob, recalled his impression of his grandson when he came home from school after having seen the scene of Billy’s accident. “He didn’t want nothing [sic] else except to go back and make sure that it was a person there,” he recalled.
“He’s always worried about other people than he is himself [sic],” he added. Brandy had some thoughts about that evening as well. “He knew deep down it was something,” she said. “He went with his instincts.” Billy is certainly lucky that Jerald was the one who happened to ride by his crash scene that day. Riding motorcycles can be very dangerous, and it’s important to adopt proper safety practices.
23. A Helmet Isn’t Enough
Regardless of the motorcycle safety laws of any given state, it’s important to wear more than just a helmet when riding, according to bikersbasics.com. Missouri law doesn’t require riders to wear more than a safety helmet, but best practices also include leathers, boots and gloves.
Missouri law also doesn’t have restrictions on audio speakers inside helmets. But if bikers do decide to jam to some tunes during their rides, they should proceed with caution and follow other best practices to ensure their safety. As mentioned, Billy was wearing a helmet at the time of his crash, and it likely saved his life. Other times, accidents can be totally out of the rider’s control.
24. Road Safety is important
Of course, motorcycle accidents aren’t always something the rider can control. After all, that’s why they are called accidents. And Missouri apparently wasn’t the best state for Billy McMahan to have been riding his bike, according to a report from the National Security Commission.
According to the report, the Commission gave the state an F grade in road safety. The grade was based on impaired driving, seatbelt use, distracted driving and speeding. Of course, it’s not clear what exactly caused Billy’s crash, but it was certainly a good thing he was wearing a helmet. Although accounts like that involving Jerald seem increasingly rare these days, when their stories do surface, they have the potential for a widespread reach.
25. The Rise Of Good Samaritans
The heroism of good Samaritans has been documented in recent years with the advent of social media. Of course, people have gone out of their way to help others in need throughout history—there’s nothing new about that. The difference is that now their actions can be snapped and recorded, and reports about them can be widely distributed—virally so.
It’s the viral nature of these stories that give them such great power to inspire and influence in the modern world. And in Jerald’s case specifically, the age of the good Samaritan makes the story all the more heartwarming. We can only hope other kids (and adults, for that matter) learn from Jerald’s example.
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