VA Black Hills Health Care System
VA Police Officer Prevents Tragedy on Busy Interstate
An autistic teenager walks in the middle of a busy interstate – rather than being the beginning of a tragedy it's the start of a happy ending.
That happy ending was the child safe and sound in the back seat of a VA Black Hills Health Care System police squad car, rescued by Capt. Perry Huffman.
At around 2:45 p.m. on Feb. 14 an alert went out to all South Dakota law enforcement officers that a mentally challenged and autistic child had run away from a school for the developmentally-disabled near Interstate I-90 between Sturgis and Rapid City.
"As the crow flies it's about a quarter of a mile from the interstate – separated by a pasture and a barbed wire fence," Huffman said.
The veteran officer was traveling from the VA's Fort Meade campus back to the VA's Hot Springs campus when he said he spotted the teenager who had already walked across the eastbound lanes and was heading into the westbound lanes.
"What caught my eye was a cattle truck that was passing by in the westbound lane and then I saw the teenager walking up toward it," said the officer, who has been a VA employee since 2004.
After spotting the teenager Huffman turned on his squad car's patrol lights then used a turn-around in the median to get into the westbound lanes so he could pull up near the teenager.
The young man, who was wearing a protective helmet, did not speak and when Huffman attempted to get him into the safety of the squad car started to struggle.
"The first thing I heard from him was a growl as he walked past me," Huffman said.
But when a South Dakota State trooper and Meade County Sheriff's Deputy arrived on the scene they found the teenager safely in the back seat of the officer’s car.
"The VA should be very proud to have an officer of this caliber that put his life in danger to save a young person who was not aware of the trouble he was in being on the interstate," wrote Trooper Mike Thomas, of the South Dakota Highway Patrol.
Huffman also received a letter of appreciation from the school.
"I could tell from the letter that the teenager’s parents were very appreciative," Huffman said.