Fred Stidham might not be alive today if 17-year-old Cole LaBonte had not been traveling behind the local teacher and motorcycle enthusiast on Highway 87 Sunday afternoon.
Just before 3 p.m. Stidham's Honda Goldwing drifted out of the right lane about 10 miles north of the Saguaro Lake turnoff. Stidham, a 53-year-old junior-high teacher at Pine-Strawberry Elementary School, ended up off the bank.
"He was off in the dirt fish-tailing. Then (I saw) a huge cloud of dust in the area and I knew he was down," LaBonte said.
LaBonte was about a mile behind him and the only eyewitness to the accident.
"He was only in my sights for about 20 to 40 seconds. I wasn't even supposed to be there," LaBonte said. LaBonte's parents live in Payson and he is living and attending school in Tempe.
"I didn't have any real reason to go up. I will just go for the ride (I thought). I just kept driving on, just driving for the heck of it," he said. "It is all fate, it is all God."
It was also in Stidham's favor that LaBonte has been a Boy Scout. LaBonte credits the Scouts for his levelheaded approach and his first-aid training.
Calling 911 on his cell phone, LaBonte had trouble identifying exactly where the bike lay. Communicating his location on the static-filled lines was difficult.
During the 40-minute wait, LaBonte first worked at moving the 700-pound bike off Stidham without causing more injury.
"He had severe lacerations on both legs and his right hip was filleted," LaBonte said. The top of his head was cut badly, as were his chest and arms.
"Luckily he landed on the dirt. If it had been the pavement ...," LaBonte's words trail off.
Unsure of what may have been broken, LaBonte worked at keeping the patient still, breathing, and awake.
"He was coming back into consciousness. I was yelling at him to breathe with me breathe in, breathe out. (The) 911 (operator) told me not to move the victim. Once he became more alert, he wanted to move. I said no ... he listened," LaBonte said. "I gave him a cup of water, making him spit it out, he was responsive."
After about 40 minutes of holding Stidham's head in his left hand to keep his neck still and protected, the first Highway Patrol arrived.
Paramedics from Fountain Hills arrived after another 10-minute wait.
LaBonte did not release Stidham's head or leave his side until he was loaded into a helicopter and airlifted to Scottsdale Healthcare hospital, where he is expected to make a full recovery.
LaBonte came to Pine recently to meet a few of the students who brag about their Social Studies teacher. He asked to see a photo of Stidham and what he saw was how important this man is to his students.
"Fred has always been an exceptional teacher," Kathe Ketchem, Pine-Strawberry School Administrator said.
Stidham has been teaching for more than 20 years and more than half of those years have been in the Rim country, including eight years at the Pine-Strawberry Elementary School.
Ketchem, Stidham's boss and longtime friend, says that Stidham is expected to fully recover.
He has a broken neck and a broken pelvis. He is in a metal halo, a device designed to keep the neck immobile, and has already had skin graft surgeries for his legs and another to pin his hip, she said.
"He is such a good role model," Ketchem said. "He is part of our family our teaching family at P-S school and we are missing him."