Steven Arrasmith should not be alive.
The 34-year-old correctional officer from Mesa, Idaho, should have died three different times on Monday – but a little ingenuity, coupled with the wretched thought of his 7-month-old son living most of his life without a father, helped him pull through.
The story unfolded early Monday morning, as he was driving the morning portion of his daily two-hour commute along the Snake River Bridge to his job with the Idaho Department of Juvenile Corrections in Nampa.
He began crossing a bridge at the Oregon/Idaho border, which hangs 50 feet above the Snake River. As the sun rose, the generally rough concrete surface was slick with ice.
Arrasmith easily could have continued driving to the trees, streaked with autumnal color, on the other side, but he noticed a damaged 2008 Chevrolet Colorado idling on the side of the bridge.
As it turned out, the Modesto Bee reported, the car had hit a patch of black ice and smashed into the bridge’s guardrail.
Concerned, Arrasmith parked his 2016 Jeep behind the damaged vehicle and gingerly jumped out of the car, taking care to avoid the icy patches that placed them in the situation.
He was first aid certified and prepared to help anyone who might be injured.
His good deed didn’t go unpunished, though.
As he stood in front of his Jeep’s grill, trying to catch the attention of the Colorado’s occupants, the tires of a third car – this one a 2008 Hyundai pickup truck driven by 68-year-old Walla Walla resident Jim Hudnall, the Modesto Bee reported – lost traction on a patch of black ice.
The truck slid and skidded across the slippery bridge, finally crashing into Arrasmith’s Jeep, which smashed into its owner in turn.
Arrasmith was flung over the bridge’s waist-high, concrete block railing. He threw his arms out in a desperate attempt to save himself, and, miraculously, his hands caught the rough surface of the bridge.
There he clung, about five stories above a freezing river.
Long seconds passed, as he hung in his Army field jacket, his body wracked with pain. His options appeared limited – take a chance in the river, or pull himself back on the road.
The former option presented two fairly dire issues: If the fall didn’t kill him, he would likely drown in the river. After all, he had already sustained serious injury from the Jeep.
The latter, though, seemed impossible – he was in too much pain, and the barrier was too high to climb.
“I tried to hang on, for about 10 seconds,” Arrasmith told the Associated Press.
He chose option one.
He let go and plunged 50 feet into the icy river below, smacking the water feet-first. When he managed to get his head back above water, it was clear that his femur had shattered. One of his legs was nothing more than dead weight.
“When you’re swimming and your leg is flopping around like a noodle you know,” he told KBOI.
Still, he was happy to land the way he did. It allowed him to orient himself. As he said, “It was pretty nice that I went feet first.”
At this point, he knew two terrible things: He had a useless leg, and it was 36 degrees outside.
Death would have been as easy as drifting sleep, but he wouldn’t have it. His life, after all, was more than just his now.
“I thought about my 7-month-old son, how I have to be there for him,” he told the Modesto Bee. “That was my drive and desire.”
And he knew one more thing.
“I am familiar with the Snake River, and I know in that section it has a northwest flow,” Arrasmith told the AP. “I was able to orient myself really quickly. There’s Oregon. Just continue west.”
So he shed his Army field jacket, which weighed down his body in the water. With one appendage a wet “noodle,” but powered by love for his child, he began kicking.
“There was only one thing going through my mind,” Arrasmith told KBOI. “I had to make it to shore to see my 7-month-old son.”
For five to 10 excruciatingly long minutes, he paddled through the water, getting ever closer to shore. When he got close enough to stop, he was too exhausted to pull his legs from the water – they would spend another hour submerged.
“The broken leg was quite a hindrance; I was kicking with my leg but my leg was just flopping around,” he told the AP.
Finally a police officer spotted him and waded through the river with a wool blanket, which he laid over Arrasmith. They then brought him to Saint Alphonsus Medical Center in Ontario, which transferred him to a Boise hospital, KTVB reported.
“He’s very fortunate,” Oregon State Police Capt. Bill Fugate told the AP. “In any of those events, he could have lost his life.”
But, to Arrasmith, it had nothing to do with luck.
“You do what you have to do to make it home,” he told KBOI.
As of Tuesday morning, Arrasmith was at a hospital, preparing for surgery on his leg. The driver of the Hyundai suffered minor injuries but was relatively unharmed. The Chevy Colorado driver was not injured.
As he was being prepped for surgery, Arrasmith offered Modesto Bee readers a bit of practical advice.
“Everybody needs to realize it’s winter. Slow down. Don’t use cruise control,” he said. “Speed kills.”