He didn't want to scare his mother, but he was starting to get worried, too. His dad had thought he'd be home by 9 o'clock and it was past that. Worse, there were no answers to repeated calls to Jason's cell phone. Each call went directly to voice mail. In his room, Davey had made calls on the TCARC repeater, trying to raise his dad. Those call resulted in no contact, either and that's what was concerning to Davey the most.
“Do you think we should call the police?” she asked Davey?
“Gee, Mom. At this point, Dad's only a couple hours late. I don't know if they're going to be able to do anything. But we could give it a shot if it would make you feel better.”
Donna made the telephone call, and within minutes the police showed up at the Bolton's door. Donna explained what had happened and Davey, making a split decision, had to set things right.
“Officer, my dad wasn't headed to work. He was headed to Pleasanton to pick up a Christmas gift for mom. He expected to be home by nine o'clock and that was over an hour ago.”
Donna gasped out, “What?”
“Sorry, Mom. Dad swore me to secrecy, but I thought it best the police know where Dad was really headed.”
The officer informed Dave, Donna and Maria that there really wasn't too much they could do at this point. Jason was only two hours overdue and generally a person has to be missing for twenty four hours before you could file a missing person report. But they took all the information about Jason Bolton's Jeep and said they would put a word out to the local police stations between Springdale and Pleasanton. They would inform Donna if anything developed.
The officer pulled Dave on the side. “You're involved with the Amateur Radio operators in town right, son?”
“Yes, sir. What are you suggesting?”
“Well son,” the officer started, “A lot of those radio people are involved in Springdale's CERT Team. Anytime we've asked for communications help, they've always stepped up to the plate. I can't have the OEM Director call them up for this, it's too soon. But you probably know most of them. Look, there's three roads that your dad most likely took – State Highway 9, Pleasanton – Spring Valley Road, or Old Post Road. Maybe if you and you're friends started looking on your own …......”
George and Jeannie Mason had come over to be with the Boltons. George had overheard the conversation between Dave Bolton and the police officer and had immediately said, “Say no more. Davey, you call Jimmy and get him over here. I am going to get on the phone and start making some phone calls. Donna, is it OK if I have the guys come over here as a meeting point?”
“But George, it's Christmas Eve! Do you think you'll be able to get anyone to help?” Tears started coming down her face.
George Mason reassured her. “Don't you worry, Donna. This is what we do, especially when it's one of our own. I think I can have a bunch here within the hour. The best thing you could do right now is get some coffee brewing. This might be a long night.”
As Donna went into the kitchen, Dave followed. This time, she really broke down. She hugged Davey so tightly, he thought he was going to break. “Oh Davey. When John died, I thought I was going to, too. How I managed to get through that, I'll never know. Then your dad and I fell in love and it was like my life was worth living again. I don't know if I can go through this again.”
Davey had a lump in his throat, but this was no time for weakness. He put the bad thoughts out of his head and took control. “Don't worry, Mom. We'll find him. Keep praying and let's just take it as it comes.”
Just as George Mason had expected, the phone chain had worked. Four members from the TCARC who were also CERT members had shown up at the Bolton house. They all met in the dining room, looking at a state map on the table.
George Mason got right down to business, “Thanks for coming out on Christmas Eve guys. I know you'd rather be with your families, bu this is for one of our own. Jason KD2JMJ had an errand to run to Pleasanton. He left at 6 o'clock and should have been home by 9 o'clock at the latest. That was over two hours ago. The police have been notified and are going to do all they can, but since it's been so recent, there's not much they can do. They suggested we get together.”
He continued on, “The police feel it's most likely that Jason took either State Highway 9, Pleasanton – Spring Valley Road, or Old Post Road. Maybe if we team up by two and head out to Pleasanton on the roads, we'll find out what happened.
I'll stay here and man the radio and act as a Net Control. John and Bob – you two take State Highway 9. Tim and Wayne, you take Pleasanton – Spring Valley Road.
Dave and Jim – you take Old Post Road. Be careful out there gentlemen, report back to base every 15 minutes or sooner if you see something.”
Jason Bolton had regained consciousness. Everything was kind of woozy, and his head hurt on the left side, towards the front of his scalp. He felt something warm against his face. It was Barney! Barney had gotten out of his carrier and miraculously, was no worse for wear. He had been licking Jason's face when he came to.
“Barney, good boy! It looks like we're in kind of a jam, boy”. Jason took stock of his situation after a few minutes. The car was on it's side in a ditch. The passenger side was “up” and the driver's side door was “down”. The air bags had deployed and something was pinning his left arm down. He could move and wiggle his hand, but couldn't free his left arm, and his left side hurt like blazes.
“OK, let's see. I can't free myself, but the radio seems to be working, thank God I hooked it straight to the battery and not through the ignition switch.” Of course he meant the Icom VHF radio under the dash. “If I can reach the microphone, maybe I can call for help. My cell phone's in my left pocket ….. I think. No way I'm reaching that.”
Talking to himself out loud had a calming effect. He knew that the very least thing he needed to do now was panic. He was able to reach into the center console and found an old rag that he kept to wipe the inside of the windshield from time to time. “Not exactly sterile. But I can use this to possibly stop this scalp wound from bleeding.” He placed the rag on his scalp wound and kept in place by gingerly putting on his ball cap. This makeshift compress worked and the bleeding slowed down to more of a seeping, instead of a free flowing situation.
“Now, let's see about the microphone.” He pulled on the coiled cord with his right hand only to fine that it was stuck on something. When he eventually managed to wangle it free, Jason saw that the microphone was smashed into bits.
“Great. The radio works, but the microphone doesn't. What now?”
Barney sat by George's side wagging his tail. He seemed to be happy to be with Jason, regardless of the circumstances and that fact alone buoyed Jason's spirits.
“Well, Barney, old pal, let me turn this thing on and hopefully, we'll hear something.”
The makeshift search and rescue team set off from the Bolton's house, each taking their route to Pleasanton. It was going to be slow going as not only was it snowing, but each team wanted to make sure that they didn't become a casualty to the situation as well.
George Mason acted as the Net Control. He had the explicit permission from the TCRC leadership to take full control of the repeater for as long as this took. He made an announcement on the repeater, notifying all on frequency of the gravity of the situation and asking for their cooperation.
“This is George Mason N2EBA, Net Control. Search Teams, please respond when called for a radio check”
“Team One – State Highway Nine – how do you copy?”
“Net Control this is Team One, WA2CBA reading you loud and clear.
“Received, Team One. Team Two – Spring Valley Road – how do you copy?”
“Net Control, this is Team Two, K2RBC reading you loud and clear.”
“Received Team Two. Team Three – Old Post Road – how do you copy?”
“Net Control, this is Team Three, AA2AM, you are full quieting.”
“All teams, on my mark, it will be 12:00 Midnight, local time. I will call for status reports every 15 minutes. If you come across anything, at any time, report in as necessary. 1, 2, 3 …... Mark”.
While all this was going on, Jason Bolton had the under dash Icom on scan. Since it was Christmas Eve, there wasn't much activity on any frequency. Luckily, he heard the net being called up. He muttered a quiet prayer of thanks to God that at least people were looking for him. But in addition to not being able to talk through his microphone, he also noticed that the culvert he was in was deep enough that he couldn't see the road. If he couldn't see the road, how would they seem him? This was compounded by the fact that it was snowing just hard enough that any skid marks left on the road would soon be covered. And it was getting cold, very cold. Barney hunkered even closer to Jason to try and keep warm himself.
Dave and Jim, and the other teams were all more or less halfway to Pleasanton and didn't see anything. In between 15 Minute call-ups, N2EBA kept calling KD2JMJ.
“KD2JMJ this is N2EBA. Jason, if you're out there listening, please call in.”
At the same moment, Jason was thinking to himself, “I would if I could, George, I would if I could. This microphone is a mess …... no way I can call for help.” Then a thought struck him. If he could reach into his right rear pocket and get to the pocket knife he always carried, just maybe ….......
He slowly shifted in the car seat. It was tough going because he was on his side, and hardly had use of his left arm, which was pinned to his side, but he managed to get the knife out. He carefully brought his right hand to his left and then deployed the blade. He set the knife down in his lap, and then pulled the microphone over. With a bit of effort he cut the microphone cord, exposing the wires. He racked his memory, trying to remember which two wires were the ones he needed. He began toughing them together.
As the teams were driving, they noticed the static that had been plaguing the repeater was back. Davey got disgusted with himself. “Geez, I thought we cleared that all up. Now it's back when we need it the least!” Jimmy tried to re-assure his friend, “Take is easy Davey. Don't worry about that now. Just keep a look out for your dad's Jeep”.
Within another hour, the three teams reached Pleasanton. It was 1:00 AM, Christmas morning. They each met up at the address of the house where Jason had picked up Barney, and they all checked in with George before turning back towards Springdale.
Meanwhile Jason, kept “calling” for help by touching the microphone wires together. He heard the net's chatter about the interference, so he know he was being heard. But how to get them to notice that is wasn't the repeater problem that his son has fixes, but that it was him? He decided to keep doing what he was doing and hoped for the best.
Shortly after the six Hams had started on their return trip. George Mason made a call up, well before the scheduled 15 minute interval. “All teams, this is Net Control. I've noticed something about our static problem. It's not intermittent, like it has been for the past weeks. It seems to be coming in regular intervals. Davey, does your Dad know Morse Code?”
“Net Control, this is AA2AM. No, Mr. Mason, Dad doesn't know Morse Code. He always said he wanted to learn, but never seemed to find the time. What are you thinking?”
“All teams, stand by. This static is not like before. It used to be random. Now it almost seems to have a rhythm to it. KD2JMJ, this is N2EBA. Jason if you can hear me, give me one, I repeat, one long burst of static.”
Jason Bolton couldn't believe his ears! He was hoping against hope they would notice his attempts at a signal and not keep mistaking them for interference. It seems George N2EBA had noticed a rhythm to the static bursts.
“Barney old pal, we're not out of the woods yet, but maybe there's a light at the end of the tunnel.”
The dog noticed Jason's excitement, and let out a bay that beagles are know for. Jason though it was loud enough to wake the dead.
Jason touched the wires together for five seconds, and the stopped.
George waited. “All teams, stand by. I have to make sure. KD2JMJ, Jason, if that's you – give me two long bursts of static.”
Jason did as directed. You could hear the excitement in N2EBA's voice but he maintained a calm demeanor.
Davey nearly jumped out of the car seat. “Jimmy, that's my dad! He's alive!” Jimmy was glad for his pal, but cautioned him, “Chill Davey, this is good news, but we still have a ways to go. Let's give Mr. Mason some time to work on this.
“OK, Jason. I'm going to as you a couple of questions – one burst of static for “Yes” and two for “No”. Are you injured?”
Jason Bolton pressed the wires together once.
N2EBA came back, “Are you hurt very badly?”
Two static bursts came back.
The George continued on, “OK, Jason. Listen carefully, we have three teams of Hams looking for you. They've already made the trip from Springdale to Pleasanton and didn't see you. I am guessing your Jeep is no longer on the road. We have one team on State Highway Nine, one on Spring Valley Road and one on Old Post Road. Is one of those the road that you were on?”
One static burst came back.
“Good man, Jason, good man! OK, Jason, one burst for the State Highway, two bursts for Spring Valley Road and three for Old Post Road. Go ahead.”
Three static bursts came back.
“All teams, KD2JMJ is somewhere off the side of Old Post Road. Davey and Jimmy, that's your road. Drive slowly and keep a look out. In the meantime, I'll notify the State Police. Teams one and two, please cut on over to Old Post Road and help Team Three.”
The next thing George Mason noticed was Donna Bolton hugging him wildly. Tears were streaming down her face and she was speechless.
“He's alive Donna, and not badly hurt, or so it seems. We'll get him home.”
The next voice heard on the repeater was AA2AM. “KD2JMJ this is AA2AM. We didn't see any skid marks on the way to Pleasanton. They must have gotten covered by snow. If there's any way you can signal us, it would sure help us find you”.
One single static burst came back. Davey knew his father would signal them somehow, he just had to figure out what that signal would be.
Jimmy drove carefully and purposefully. They hastened their way through stretches of road where there was flat land on either side of the road. Anywhere there was was a ditch or a culvert, they slowed down. Davey had opened his window and had a hand held, battery operated search light sweeping the sides of the road.
They were practically half way back to Springdale. And Davey was growing impatient. “Take it easy, Dave. I know you want to find your dad, but we have to take this slow.”
“I know, Jimmy, I know. But I want to get him out of there and home.”
As they came to the next patch of road that had roadside ditches, Jimmy slowed down some more and Davey opened his window to sweep with the search light. That's when he heard it.
“Jimmy, did you hear that?”
“I could swear I heard a dog howling. Turn around go back up the road a few hundred feet.”
Jimmy did and they saw nothing on the side of the road heading to Pleasanton. They turned around and headed towards Springdale again.
“Jimmy, I heard it again. A dog howling. Stop the car.”
Jimmy stopped and they both got out and walked along the side of the road.
“Jimmy, I can make out skid marks! They're almost covered by the snow!”
The followed the marks and sure enough, there was Jason Bolton's Jeep, on it's side on the ditch.
“Jimmy, I'll go check on dad. You get back to the radio and let Mr. Mason know we found dad!”
Dave scrambled down to the Jeep and gave it a wide berth. He didn't want to make the situation worse. Once he saw the car was stable on it's side and wasn't about it tip over further, he bent down hear the windshield and pointed his searchlight into the car. His Dad was sitting there and Barney was right by his side, his tail wagging a mile a minute.
“Dad, are you OK?”
“I'm pinned in here, Dave. I can't free my left arm and I have a gash on the left side of my head, but I think I'll live. Man, are you a sight for sore eyes!”
Meanwhile, Jimmy called back into N2EBA with the news that they had found Jason Bolton. He reported that they would need a wrecker, an ambulance and the crossroad they were nearest to. George called the State Police and everything was put in motion. It wasn't long before the Police, EMS and a Fire Rescue team arrived to do the extraction and transport to the hospital.
It was about 6 o'clock Christmas morning, when Jason Bolton arrived at St. Joseph's Regional Hospital, accompanied by Davey and Jimmy. While Davey went in to be with his dad, Jimmy sat in his warm car with Barney. A half hour later, George and Jeannie Mason and Donna Bolton and Maria all arrived at the Emergency Room.
In a short while, the ER Doctor on duty came out to the waiting area.
“Mrs. Bolton?” he asked.
Donna got up out of her chair. “How is he doctor? Is Jason going to be OK?”
“He's a very lucky man, Mrs. Bolton. He has a few cracked ribs on his left side and a bad contusion on his left arm from hitting the side of the car. And we think he might have had a slight concussion so we're going to keep him here today for observation. Just to make sure everything is OK.”
“Oh thank you so much, Doctor! Can I go in and see him?'
“Sure, But don't stay too long. We're going to be moving him upstairs to a room and he's pretty tired. He's probably going to sleep for a while.”
Davey, Maria and his mom walked into the Emergency Room cubicle.
“Oh, Jason. thank the Lord that you're going to be OK. You scared the living daylights out of me. And all this over a Christmas present? Don't ever do anything like this again!”
Jason tiredly smiled back at her and said, “He's not just a "Christmas present, Honey". Davey, where's Barney?”
Davey said, “Don't worry Dad, he's with Jimmy. We're going to bring him home with us from here.”
“You're just going to love him, Donna, He's such a good dog. He stayed with me the whole time. He's a rescue dog, you know.”
At that Davey laughed. Maria, and his Mom and Dad all looked at him quizzically.
“Rescue dog? Who rescued who – I think you might have rescued each other!”