Right Place, Right Time

Critically injured OWU alumnus receives help from unlikely source

OWU alumnus Bill Sutton, left, and Delaware City Police Officer Jake Hartman have become friends since Hartman aided Sutton at an accident scene in Wilmington, Delaware. Sutton returned to Delaware, Ohio, recently to thank Hartman. (Photo by Cole Hatcher)

When Ohio Wesleyan University graduate Bill Sutton, Class of 1973, was involved in a life-threatening accident on a Delaware roadway, the first person to stop was veteran Delaware City Police Officer Jake Hartman. But this was no routine response.

Sutton had been driving his motorcycle on a Wilmington, Delaware, roadway in June 2010 when a motorist crossed into his lane and hit him head-on. Meanwhile, Hartman was vacationing 500 miles away from his Delaware, Ohio, home when he came across the accident and stopped to help.

“When I came to after the impact,” Sutton told local City Council members at a ceremony last month to recognize Hartman, “my impulse was to pull my helmet off, not knowing that my neck was broken. Officer Hartman calmed me down and explained that it was important to keep my head and neck still until medical personnel arrived. He probably saved me from paralysis by doing so.”

Seven operations, three hospitalizations, and “a lot of mending” later, Sutton traveled from his home in Newtown Square, Pennsylvania, to recognize Hartman for the officer’s caring, compassion, and exemplary performance—even while off duty and vacationing in another state.

“He is richly deserving of recognition, yours and mine, for conduct above and beyond the call of duty,” Sutton said at the City Council ceremony. “He did not ask for this recognition tonight. His own chief, Russ Martin, knew nothing about this story until I spoke with him a few months ago. Officer Hartman stopped to help that day, not for a pat on the back and certainly not for personal gain, but because he thought it was the right thing to do.”

During the ceremony, Sutton presented Hartman with a plaque and a $1,000 check for a charity of the officer’s choice. The funds will benefit people with spinal muscular atrophy, a condition that afflicts the child of a Hartman family friend.

The next day, the two men toured Delaware together, including a nostalgic trip to the OWU campus.

Sutton hadn’t returned to Delaware or Ohio Wesleyan since his graduation, but still recalls fondly his time as a Battling Bishop. A history major who then went to law school, Sutton speaks with particular fondness of now retired professor Richard Smith.

“He brought history to life,” Sutton said. “He was a terrific teacher and his enthusiasm was infectious.”

Sutton said he hopes to travel to Delaware again to continue his friendship with Hartman and visit his college stomping grounds.

“The people of Delaware, Ohio, are very fortunate to have someone like Officer Hartman looking out for them.”

We agree.

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