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Helena officer honored for life-saving efforts after crash

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Surrounded by his family, Helena Police Department corporal Matt Lewis

Surrounded by his family, Helena Police Department Cpl. Matt Lewis receives a lifesaving award from Chief Steve Hagen on Wednesday at the Law and Justice Center.

Helena Police Department Cpl. Matt Lewis was honored on Wednesday for his life-saving efforts after a multi-vehicle crash earlier this month. 

The incident took place on Dec. 10, when HPD officers were dispatched to a rollover injury crash near Washington Street and Custer Avenue. At the time, Lewis was only a few blocks away from the crash. He quickly responded to the scene and found one vehicle on its side and another vehicle crashed into the water treatment plant. Lewis said he could tell something was different about this crash, as he had responded before dispatch officially made the call.

"The difference on this was that you could tell dispatch was stressed," Lewis said.

Lewis said multiple vehicles were involved in the crash and multiple road signs had been taken out in the process. Lewis was able to quickly infer that the driver of the vehicle by the water treatment plant was in distress. Bystanders at the scene said the woman in the rolled vehicle was trapped, but uninjured. However, the man in the other vehicle was unconscious and struggling to breathe. The vehicle he was in was still in gear and locked. Lewis had to punch out the window to get to the man. 

Lewis said the first thing officers do when they arrive at a crash like this is assess and secure the scene. After observing no safety hazards, he quickly knew this man needed his help.

After making contact with the man, Lewis wasn't able to get him to respond. Lewis observed the man was having trouble breathing and worked to free him from his seat belt. Lewis also called for the next officer on the scene to bring an Automated External Defibrillator unit to him. Lewis was unable to get a pulse from the man, who was experiencing sporadic short gasps for air. Officers Tanner Singh and Steven Cornish arrived and delivered the AED to Lewis. He attached the machine to the man and was advised that the man was not experiencing shock and that CPR should be administered.

"We don't have a ton of medical training," Lewis said. "But we do know what to do until more qualified medical professionals arrive on scene."

Lewis administered chest compressions to the man, and after a short time he began lifting his arms and recoiled in pain. Lewis stopped doing the compressions and the man's pulse returned. Lewis tried to communicate with him, but he went unresponsive again. Medical units arrived on scene and set up oxygen. The following day, medical workers informed Lewis that the man had stabilized and was transported to the VA hospital for further treatment.

The man had experienced a medical emergency that caused the crash. Corporal Lewis' quick action played a major role in saving the patient's life. According to Lewis, the AED was an invaluable tool and every HPD patrol vehicle has one. 

"Thank you for having AEDs in all of our police cars," Lewis said, as he was presented with a life-saving ribbon by HPD Chief Steve Hagen.

The day before the award ceremony was the 10-year anniversary of Lewis joining the HPD as a patrol officer. Lewis spent three of those 10 years on the Missouri River Drug Task Force and the remainder as a patrol officer. Lewis and his wife moved to Helena from Minneapolis, Minnesota around 10 years ago. The couple had family and friends in Montana and landed in the capital city after Lewis went back to school for law enforcement. They now have five children they are raising in the community.

"We love it here in the capital city," Lewis said. "We're never leaving."

Hagen said Lewis is an officer the community can count on. 

"We wanted to recognize him because this is one of those instances where we can point to it and say that this officer saved this man's life," Hagen said. "His actions made a difference."

Hagen said he wanted to present the award before retiring from the department on Thursday. 

Lewis said he didn't want to make a huge deal out of the incident because he was just doing his job.

"I tried to minimize it," Lewis said. "But it does feel good that the department is watching and recognizing officers for what they do."

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