Man cuts off toes to escape
MONTROSE — Semi-retired logger John Hutt has always known his line of work is dangerous.
Working alone in a remote wilderness in San Miguel County the morning of Aug. 19, he was forced to cut off all of the toes on his right foot after nearly six tons of machinery slipped and pinned his foot.
Hutt used a 3-inch pocketknife to sever his toes from the machinery.
The 61-year-old later drove to a parking lot near the Ridgway Dam, where an ambulance arrived to take him to Montrose Memorial Hospital.
Hutt didn’t face the prospect of waiting several lonely days to make his amputation decision as Aron Ralston did in 2003 when his arm was crushed beneath a boulder in an eastern Utah slot canyon. Ralston eventually amputated his arm and walked out in the open, where he was spotted by other hikers who summoned help.
The Montrose man made his decision in about 30 minutes.
“What are my chances of people finding me? It wasn’t that hard of a decision to make. I just felt trapped,” Hutt said.
Hutt arrived that Friday morning just after 8 o’clock in a remote, sparsely filled subdivision on Specie Mesa off Specie Creek Road, a U.S. Forest Service road off Colorado Highway 145, a few miles from Placerville. He was there to retrieve a pile of fallen Aspen trees to cut up for winter firewood. He was driving a Western Star tractor-trailer fitted with a hydraulic arm and detachable trailer.
Hutt said he was standing on the rear-axle area of the truck as he detached the trailer to load the trees, a procedure he has done thousands of times, when the trailer unexpectedly slipped and pinned his foot against the axle.
The pain was so severe, Hutt said, he screamed profanities as he looked down to see what had happened. A throbbing sensation began to run up his leg, and each time he tried to move the foot, it hurt even more.
“You don’t panic or anything. You just try and figure a way out,” Hutt said.
Hutt’s cell phone was in the cab of the truck, not that it mattered. There was no cell service in the area.
Hutt saw a house 300 yards away and began screaming for help. After five minutes he stopped, which was just as well. He later learned the house was empty.
Earlier that morning, Hutt told his wife, Margaret, the tree retrieval was a “simple run,” and he would be home sometime between 1 or 2 o’clock in the afternoon. However, Hutt said, she was used to him being several hours late because of common delays that loggers can experience, such as equipment breaking down.
Standing with his foot trapped in the middle of the woods, he realized it probably would be dark before anyone would begin to look for him. He also saw his foot swelling, and he feared he might go into shock, pass out and fall in a way that could cause more bleeding.
He searched his pockets to find a tube of Chapstick and his 10-year-old Trapper Old Timer pocketknife.
Hutt said he cut away the boot to survey the damage to his foot. When he got to his sock, he saw blood.
His next move he debated for only 30 minutes and determined he had to cut himself away from the truck.
“So, I thought, ‘All right, you might as well cut this thing off. It’s the only way out.’ If I pass out and go into shock, I’m done, and if I drop this pocketknife, I’m done,” Hutt said.
Hutt began to cut on the right side of his right foot. He said he would cut for a few seconds before stopping to catch his breath and wipe sweat from his eyes. By the time he made it to his two largest toes, the knife was getting dull from having to cut through bone, nerves and tendons.
“At that point the pain didn’t even matter, it wasn’t like it hurt more,” Hutt said.
He said he used leverage, and after a hard effort he cut through his big toe and was free. He estimated it took 10 to 15 minutes to complete the amputation of the five toes.
He then wrapped his T-shirt around the foot and secured it with black electrical tape.
Moments later, he used the hydraulic arm to reload the trailer onto the truck. That also freed the boot with his severed toes in it, so he grabbed it, threw it in the truck and drove off.
He finally got cell-phone service while driving over Dallas Divide, and he called 911 and told the dispatcher he was four miles west of Ridgway.
He said he bypassed the Ridgway clinic and told the 911 dispatcher he was going to make it to Montrose to try to save his toes.
“I told her that I needed a surgeon. She kept saying, ‘Pull that truck over, pull that truck over,’ and I said, ‘Nope, I ain’t gonna do it,’ ” Hutt said.
He finally pulled over in a parking lot near the Ridgway Dam after he noticed the trailer wasn’t properly secured.
Colorado State Patrol Sgt. Jerry Wiseman, who arrived at the Ridgway Dam at about 10:30 a.m., confirmed some of Hutt’s story.
“We had got a call of man with a severed foot,” Wiseman said. “He told our dispatcher that he was in Ridgway and wasn’t stopping.
“I had just arrived there when they were putting him in the ambulance. There was a boot, and I was told his toes were still inside.”
Hutt was taken to the Montrose hospital, where doctors said there was nothing to salvage, and the toes could not be reattached. The doctors cleaned up the wound, removed some bone and stitched his foot, he said.
Hutt said his foot could take a month or more to heal, and once it’s healed, the injury won’t deter him from logging or operating heavy cranes.
Looking back, Hutt said he still believes he made the right decision.
“My son joked that I don’t have to worry about stubbing my toes anymore,” Hutt said with a laugh.