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Publish Date: 8/8/2005

Louisville boy takes wheel after mom has seizure


LOUISVILLE — When Ryan Sullivan’s mother had a seizure behind the wheel of her Mitsubishi Eclipse on Saturday, the 12-year-old boy’s quick thinking and dexterous driving likely saved the lives of several people.

Debbi Sullivan, 49, was driving Ryan to the Wal-Mart on South Boulder Road in Lafayette on Saturday afternoon to pick up a prescription for a fractured wrist Ryan had suffered earlier in the day when he fell from his skateboard.

They had just left Avista Adventist Hospital where he was treated for his injury.

As they pulled into the parking lot, Sullivan suffered a seizure that stiffened her body and caused her to slam on the accelerator.

“I noticed we were picking up speed,” said the Louisville Middle School seventh-grader.

Lafayette Police estimate that the Mitsubishi Eclipse reached speeds in excess of 60 miles per hour as it traveled 400 feet in the parking lot.

Ryan, who had a full cast on his left arm, took off his seat belt, maneuvered into his mother’s lap as she was seizing an steered the car away from other cars and pedestrians, according to a police report. He hit a curb, which popped a tire and still had to drive.

“I am driving 70 miles per hour on a popped tire and these people turned right in front of me and I swerved around them,” Ryan said on Sunday, recounting his experience.

He then managed to get his mom’s foot off of the gas and his own onto the break. He left 81 feet of skid marks and stopped the car, which was headed for the rear end of a parked car.

Ryan was told that his actions may have saved the lives of up to six people, including his own and his mother’s.

“Both his dad and I are so very proud of him,” Sullivan said. “The way he handled himself and the way he handled himself afterward.”

Once the car was stopped, he called for help from the driver’s side window. People in the parking lot ran to his aid and two police officers who were having dinner nearby quickly responded.

Sullivan’s seizure persisted through the ordeal. When it stopped, she was screaming, Ryan said.

No one was hurt in the accident and the car only sustained minor damage. Sullivan was taken back to Avista.

Ryan, who turned 12 in May, has been talking to friends about the incident.

“I actually called a lot of people and told them,” he said. “They were just shocked that I did that and that I saved six people’s lives.”

Sullivan, a Northglenn Middle School teacher, said she and Ryan’s father had casually warned him before that if anything ever happened to a car’s driver that he might have to take over. She had previously had one seizure, but said that testing didn’t turn up any problems. She said doctors this time have referred her to a specialist.

Ryan credits his driving skills with his go-cart experience.

“It happened so fast,” he said. “I think it happened under a minute.”

Pierrette J. Shields can be reached at 303-684-5273, or by e-mail at pshields@times-call.com.

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