CHP officer Wills awarded for saving life of victim, 5

August 22, 2001|By DARREN SIMON and MARIO RENTERIA, Staff Writers

The date was Sept. 5, 1998.

California Highway Patrol Officer Steve Wills was traveling west on Highway 98 in Calexico when he observed an accident — a pickup turned into the path of a car and the two vehicles collided.

In the events that followed, Wills found himself engaged in an effort to save the life of a 5-year-old boy — an effort in which he lifted a vehicle off the child.

Today, three years later, Wills is being honored with the Highway Patrol's medal of valor in a ceremony at the Highway Patrol academy in Sacramento.


When the 1998 crash occurred, the pickup's front end was struck, causing it to overturn onto its right side.

As Wills arrived on scene he found a boy, Octuro Huereque, pinned beneath the pickup's roof. Hot fluids from the vehicle's engine were running onto the boy's arm.

According to a Highway Patrol press release, the weight of the vehicle was compressing the boy's chest, preventing him from breathing.

Without hesitation, Wills squatted, grabbed the roof of the pickup and stood, lifting the vehicle about 18 inches off the ground.

Because the boy's legs were entangled in a seat belt beneath the vehicle, a U.S. Border Patrol agent had to untangle the child to remove him.

Wills continued to hold up the vehicle as the agent freed the boy.

Wills didn't stop there.

Once the boy was free, he continued to lift the pickup, returning it to its upright position, according to the press release. That action enabled the driver and other passengers in the vehicle to free themselves.

Wills then retrieved a medical aid kit from his patrol car and treated the boy, noticing there was blood in the child's mouth and he wasn't breathing.

Wills cleared the blood from Octuro's mouth, at which time the child started to breathe and cry.

The boy was eventually flown to Children's Hospital in San Diego where his condition improved.

Today, family members say the boy, now 8 and residing in Calexico, is a happy youth who has recovered from his injuries.

But family members remember that day.

Anselmo Castillo, 51, the boy's grandfather, was driving the pickup when the crash occurred. He was able to get out of the vehicle after it was righted by Wills.

Castillo, speaking Spanish, credited Wills for his efforts.

"It's good," he said. "He acted the way he was supposed to act. There are some officers that possibly would have not let anyone move the truck, but he did.

Castillo said he thinks Wills saved his grandson's life.

So does Xochitl Castillo, 48, the boy's grandmother, who had been riding in another car in front of the pickup.

"If he wouldn't have lifted the truck, the child would have suffocated. The roof of the truck was crushing his chest and he was turning purple," Xochitl Castillo said.

"He was at the right place when he was needed," she said. "If there wasn't anybody around with experience, who knows what could have happened because of the panic?"

Xochitl Castillo said she is pleased Wills is being honored for his actions that day, adding he deserves it.

Wills, who was in Sacramento and unavailable for comment, is an Imperial Valley native. Born in Brawley, he graduated from Brawley Union High School.

He attended the Highway Patrol academy in 1984 and graduated in January 1985. He has served his entire Highway Patrol career in the Valley.

Wills' current assignment consists of certifying school bus drivers, farm labor vehicle operators, ambulances and tow trucks.

Staff Writer Darren Simon can be reached at 337-4082. Staff Writer Mario Renteria can be reached at 337-3434.

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