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'I told her I would stay,' says officer who crawled under bus to comfort pinned victim

Published: Wednesday, Dec. 14 2011 10:00 p.m. MST

A West Valley police officer holds the hand of a woman pinned underneath a Utah Transit Authority bus on Monday, Dec. 12, 2011.

Kevin Conde, West Valley City

WEST VALLEY CITY — For nine years, West Valley police officer Kevin Peck has protected and served the citizens of his city by trying to keep the streets safe from the criminal element.

But on Monday, as Peck responded to the area of 3650 South and 3200 West, it wasn't with his gun or handcuffs that he served the community. Rather it was with a simple gesture of holding a hand, and providing thoughtful words and a listening ear.

Peck was just around the corner when a Utah Transit Authority bus struck 24-year-old Aryann Smith in a crosswalk, pinning her underneath the large vehicle and severely crushing both of her legs. He was one of the first officers to arrive at the scene.

When Peck got there, all he saw was a tennis shoe sticking out from underneath the bus.

"I figured that there was probably a victim lying on to the ground next to the bus or in front of the bus. And as I got a little bit closer, I could see a white tennis shoe underneath," he said.

As Peck assessed the situation, he quickly found out the woman had suffered severe injuries. The tall officer crawled underneath the bus himself to take the woman's pulse. But after he grabbed her hand, he didn't let go until fire crews were eventually able to lift the bus off of her and pull her out.

"She was very scared. She asked me not to leave. So I said I would just stay under there with her until we got her out. And she started telling me about her family and where she was headed. She was actually going to see a little boy who was being watched by her mother just down the road around the corner," Peck said.

"I told her that I would stay there."

Peck teared up Wednesday as he recounted the incident to the Deseret News.

For the most part, Peck said Smith remained remarkably calm under the circumstances. But there were also moments when she became very frightened.

"She was afraid she was going to die. And myself being under there, I'm just praying and hoping for some reason the bus doesn't move. We're right next to the tire underneath the bus, just trying to reassure her and keep her calm," he recalled.

West Valley fire crews put blocks around the bus to prevent it from moving.

Initially, Peck said he couldn't even see Smith's face because it was covered with blood and her hair. But he could see how badly her legs were injured.

"I could basically see into her leg. I could see muscle and tendon and a kneecap," he said. "She couldn't move, she couldn't get out. She told me she couldn't feel anything below her waist, which was probably a good thing for her."

The tall Peck said about half of his body was under the bus, which had only a foot or less of space in some places, between the road and the undercarriage.

He said as he held her hand, he listened to Smith talk while reassuring her that they were going to get her out. Peck said she was "very brave" for the situation she was in.

It took fire crews several minutes to get the bus lifted and a backboard in place to pull Smith out from underneath.

"The street was very cold, so it felt like a little bit longer than that," Peck said.

Once she was out and loaded into an ambulance, Peck said he temporarily just froze in the middle of the street.

"It was really kind of odd. I remember just standing in the intersection for a minute, and if it wasn't for another officer who came up and said, 'Hey we need to notify the family,' I probably would have stood there in a bit of a daze for awhile."

Peck responds to accidents several times a day. But this was, for a reason he can't quite put his finger on, different. It reminded him, he said, of why he became a police officer in the first place: to make a difference.

"I think sometimes as a police officer I forget that, until you're in a situation that doesn't require arresting anybody or investigating some sort of crime when someone has been beaten or robbed or taken advantage of, where someone is a true victim."

At some point, Peck said he'd like to make it over to the hospital to personally check up on how Smith is doing.

At last word, she was not expected to lose her legs. Peck said all things considered, he believes Smith was "very lucky."

As for the accident, the bus driver was cited by police for failure to yield. The driver remained on paid administrative leave Wednesday pending an internal investigation that could result in disciplinary action and possible termination.

E-mail: preavy@desnews.com, Twitter: DNewsCrimeTeam

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