Eagle Police officer commended for rescuing man from Eagle River after crash on I-70

Megan Heil of the Eagle Police Department was the first on scene to dangerous crash on Jan. 2

Ash Lohmann
Vail Daily
Former Eagle County Sheriff's Deputy Megan Heil is currently an Eagle Police Department patrol officer who, on Jan. 2, on her way to work sprung into action to perform a river rescue after a dangerous 1-70 crash.
Vail Daily archive

EAGLE COUNTY — Megan Heil of the Eagle Police Department jumped into action on the afternoon of Jan. 2 as soon as she noticed something was wrong on her way to work. Thankfully, being in the right place at the right time allowed Heil to rescue a driver who had ended up in the Eagle River.

Headed to Eagle to clock into her night shift, Heil noticed a huddle of cars pulled over and knew something was wrong. 

Heil said that at the moment, she knew the accident must’ve just recently happened, because there were no emergency vehicles on the scene. Knowing she was the first responder to the scene, Heil pulled over her marked patrol car and jumped into action. 

“I found a safe place to park and then noticed a vehicle in the river,” Heil said. 

The vehicle, which had been traveling westbound on 1-70, had crossed the median, both eastbound lanes of traffic and through the guard rail to end up in the Eagle River. Heil said the car didn’t roll or hit any other vehicles before making its way into the river.

Additionally, Heil said she noticed that the airbags had deployed and she saw movement coming from the vehicle. The car was submerged enough that the driver had to work against the water to get his door open. 

By the time Heil got down to the river bank, the driver had made his way out of the car and onto a rock in the river. However, she said the driver wasn’t able to make it out of the river without assistance. 

“So, I took off my belt and my vest, just in case I fell in, and was able to make it out to help him back over to the bank,” Heil said. 

Once he was safely at the riverbank, Heil and other witnesses created a makeshift harness to hoist the man back onto the road. 

Heil said she didn’t think to deploy her bodycam until after she was heading back up to her vehicle. At that time, other first responders had made it to the scene, including law enforcement and fire, and the driver was able to receive the medical assistance he needed. 

Heil said she thinks her prior rescue training helped prepare her to act quickly and think clearly in the situation. 

“I volunteered for Garfield County Search and Rescue for 10 years on their Swift Water Team,” Heil said. “So, I felt like I had enough knowledge of the river at least in that particular location to be able to go out there safely.”

Despite her quickness to act, Heil said she would not recommend the majority of citizens do so themselves. 

A Feb. 10 Facebook post by the Eagle Police Department proudly detailed the officer’s quick thinking with the rescue. 

“Officer Heil’s ability to recognize the gravity of the situation and willingness to act should be commended,” the post read. “Officer Heil demonstrated genuine care for the victim and public safety.”

At the Feb. 14 Eagle Town Council meeting, Mayor Scott Turnipseed commended Heil on the rescue.

“I’m a little uncomfortable with the attention,” Heil said. “Honestly, I’m honored that the post got as much attention as it did. I think the story is less about me and more about how God uses us to shine in dark places. Our lives are a culmination of experiences that he uses to impact others. I was just in the right place at the right time.”

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