Accident paralyzes Milton-Freewater man

Nick Gettman is hospitalized with a skull fracture, a broken neck and back, ruptured spine and lung contusions.

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U-B FILE PHOTO: Nick Gettman (left) talks with family and friends, including best friend Austin Good (right), in his hospital room at Providence St. Mary Medical Center while spending an hour upright in a wheelchair as part of his physical therapy.

MILTON-FREEWATER - For years, Nick Gettman listened to the common advice. And when it came time, he did the right thing.

It's been drilled into him for years - if you drink, don't drive.

Take a cab, text a friend, call your parents. Whatever you need to do to get home safely.

On Oct. 24, Gettman did just that. After knocking back a couple of drinks on a Saturday night in town, he called his friend to take him home.

Even though it was 2 a.m., Austin Good didn't mind. He and Gettman are close buddies, he said. Part of friendship is watching each other's back.

It's a tale of teamwork that should have had a happy ending. Instead, Gettman is hospitalized with a skull fracture, a broken neck and back, ruptured spine and lung contusions.

He's paralyzed "from his belly button down," said his mom, Marci Gettman.

Her son, she added, is likely paralyzed for the rest of his life.

The young men were on their way back home, taking it slow, according to Good. County Road is dark at night, winding its way from town to country.

Good had his Ford F-250 pickup aimed west and was headed into rain and a curve when he saw headlights coming at him. "I just reacted. They were coming right at me," he recalled.

There was no escape unless Good left the road, turning a field into an exit ramp. In doing so, however, he instinctively over-corrected.

The full-sized truck flipped, then flipped again. And once again, coming to rest on its wheels. The vehicle that caused the accident didn't stop.

Officials with the Umatilla County Sheriff's Office said alcohol does not appear to be a factor in the accident and that both men reportedly were wearing seatbelts.

Once he knew up from down, Good turned to check on Gettman and discovered he wasn't in the crew cab.

"I was in shock, that was hard, thinking about that ... not finding him. I didn't know what to think."

He found his friend about 10 feet away from the truck, laying on the ground and moaning, Good said. It was 2:20 a.m., the rain was still coming down, and the lady of the house was calling emergency dispatch.

The boy who shined at state wrestling championships through high school was motionless.

A sign is up on Nick Gettman's door at Providence St. Mary Medical Center, telling visitors to don gown and gloves. In addition to his frightening list of injuries, her son is now battling an infection, Marci Gettman explained.

Once he's cleared by doctors, Nick is scheduled to be taken to Portland for specialized rehabilitation.

That is where Gettman will shine, predicted his boss, Everett Knudson.

"Nick is absolutely a phenomenal kid. Very bright. Always wants to help others," said Knudson, founder of Walla Walla Electric.

He hired Gettman as an apprentice electrician right out of high school and watched him place high in the journeyman's exam last year.

"Nick's 23 years old and he made the initiative to buy his own house and fix it up. He's willing to do anything you wanted him to do, work-wise."

The young man has "a lot of squirrel in him," Knudson said with a chuckle. "You know what I mean by that? He works hard and he has some fun."

While he's worked with many electricians, Knudson said Gettman is a standout. "He was on his way to being a lead electrician."

Knudson's job now is to keep his young employee from losing the fighting spirit. "If he can maintain his positive attitude, we are going to train him to be a large project estimator. It helps us, too, to do this."

His crew is already planning ways to keep their colleague's spirit healthy, Knudson added. "He has a lot of friends. That's how you stay around for a long time."

Gettman knows he'll need all the support he can get as he works through the next several months, he said Friday.

Yet, Nick Gettman's future depends heavily on Nick Gettman, he emphasized. Once again, his strategy calls for doing the right thing.

"I plan on going to rehab and getting as good as I can in my wheelchair. Maybe, hopefully, get out of it. I don't want everyone taking care of me, I plan to take care of myself."

To help

A benefit account for Nick Gettman's medical expenses has been established at American West Bank, at 30 W. Main St. or 1850 Isaacs Ave. Donations can be made at either branch.

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