Heroic policeman released from hospital after accident
Barbara Laney says South Lake Tahoe Police Officer Chuck Owens is a hero despite his protests to the contrary.
Owens pushed Laney from the path of an out-of-control vehicle Monday morning, only to be hit himself and thrown down an embankment at the side of Pioneer Trail.
“I was just doing my job. That is the way I look at it,” Owens said from his hospital bed Tuesday at Barton Memorial Hospital, where he was released after being treated for an injured elbow and massive bruises to his right side.
“I took this job to help people,” he said.
“I knew he would say that,” Laney, of Arroyo Grande Calif., responded. “But he is definitely a hero to me.”
Owens was attempting to direct traffic at an accident on the icy road, just west of Al Tahoe Boulevard, when Laney’s car – driven by her husband – lost control and slid to the side of the road. Owens was helping Laney from the car when Daniel Swartz, 37, of South Lake Tahoe, also lost control of his Ford pickup and began sliding at them.
Owens said melting snow had covered the road in black ice.
“(Swartz) couldn’t do anything and I knew we had to get out of the way or this truck is going to kill us,” he said. “I just reacted, grabbed her jacket and threw her. Both of us are really lucky.”
“If he hadn’t given me that big shove that truck would have got us both,” Laney said with obvious emotion.
Laney received a small cut above her right eye when Owens pushed her from the path of the truck.
“The car actually landed on top of me, but I was covered by so much snow it didn’t hurt me,” she said.
“He saved her from serious injury, and may have saved her life,” said Sgt. Bob Jones of the California Highway Patrol, who is investigating the accident.
Swartz said he was devastated after hitting Owens.
“I was coming over the top of the hill and it was just a sheet of ice,” he said. “You just have these horrible flashes in your mind when you see someone going under your car.”
Owens didn’t blame Swartz for the accident.
“He was probably just as scared as we were,” Owens said.
Owens said drivers need to be more careful in winter conditions.
“People don’t realize they need to slow down. A person who experiences (losing control) one time is going to be scared and may be a better driver for it,” he said.
The accident was particularly frustrating for Owens who returned to duty just six days ago after undergoing back surgery in September. Owens injured his back falling on ice at another traffic accident last fall.
A 15-year veteran of the police department, Owens is a member of the department’s hostage rescue team and is the founder of the police mounted unit.
Owens hopes to recover quickly so he can begin riding his horse again.
“I was supposed to start training again at the first of the month,” he said. “But it looks like I may have to wait a bit longer.”
Laney’s family is vacationing in South Lake Tahoe. They were on their way to Heavenly Ski Resort when the accident occurred.
“I am just so relieved that he is OK,” she said.
Swartz was also relieved that Owens’ injuries weren’t more severe.
“I heard that he is doing OK and I am really glad no one was hurt any worse,” he said.
Owens was touched by Laney’s gratitude and said she and her family had gone out of their way to thank him. He was also grateful to the other people at the accident who came to his aid.
“People were great,” he said. “They were putting coats on us to keep us warm and doing whatever they could to help us.”