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Rescuer: Man who drove off bridge wasn't breathing

MISSOULA, Mont. (AP) -- When Tyler Tuckett waded into the icy Clark Fork River in his stocking feet Tuesday night, he thought he was too late.

The big yellow SUV that had gone off the Russell Street bridge just moments earlier lay driver's side down in the water, lights on and music blaring. At first, Tuckett thought it was empty. Then he looked again.

A man was in there, underwater, "almost in the fetal position."

Tuckett reached through the broken sunroof and grabbed the man by the back of the shirt and pulled his head out of the water. And that was as far as he got. The man's legs were pinned beneath the dashboard.

"He wasn't breathing," Tuckett said. "When I looked at him, I thought he was dead."

Tuckett had some CPR training, but couldn't get close enough to the man to start chest compressions. "It wasn't the smartest thing to do but I gave him a few hard shots to the chest ... with a hammer-fist," he said.

The man gurgled.

So Tuckett, 24, leaned the man forward and whacked him on the back a few times.

"I wouldn't say he was breathing good, but you could hear life in him," he said.

Tuckett's 21-year-old pregnant wife, Charlene, waited anxiously on the riverbank.

Just a few minutes earlier, they'd been on their way home from McDonald's, warm and dry in their three-quarter-ton Ford pickup. They started across the Russell Street bridge when they saw a woman out of her car, screaming.

"She said somebody had drove over the side," Charlene Tuckett said.

Tyler Tuckett stopped the truck in the middle of the road and leapt out, pausing only to grab his gloves and kick off the slippers he was wearing, running across the ice and plunging into the knee-deep water, trying to save what his wife feared might be a dead man. Worse yet, she feared her husband would end up sharing the same fate.

"I was so worried about him," she said. "Probably more worried about him than the other man."

Then she heard her husband's voice.

"Tyler said, 'OK, buddy, we're trying to pull you out.' "

Missoula police got the call reporting a car off the bridge just before 10:30 p.m. Tuesday.

By the time law enforcement and emergency personnel arrived a few minutes later, Tuckett and another man were tugging the motorist from the vehicle.

"Another gentleman came down and grabbed his arms and started pulling and I reached in and grabbed him by the belt and pulled with everything I had," Tuckett said. "Then a cop came and helped the guy on the top end and we snuck him out of there."

At which point, said Tuckett, "I got out and put on my slippers and went home and went to bed."

Charlene Tuckett doesn't share her husband's gift of understatement.

He stripped off his wet socks as soon as he stepped out of the water and stood barefoot on the ice.

"His feet were frozen," she said. "He said his legs were completely numb." It took a long, hot shower to restore feeling, she said.

The man Tuckett helped pull from the car, 30-year-old Jason Loman of Missoula, was taken to St. Patrick Hospital. He is expected to face a misdemeanor charge of driving under the influence when he is released, said Missoula Police Detective Sgt. Bob Bouchee.

"I honestly think he would have died" if it hadn't been for her husband, said Charlene Tuckett. "From the time Tyler got there to the time the EMTs got down there, was probably a good three to five minutes. With his head underwater the whole time, he could have drowned."

Tyler Tuckett spent Wednesday in the woods above St. Regis, cutting up old beams to haul back to Pacific Steel & Recycling, where he works, unaware of the attention surrounding his actions. He deflected credit to the other passer-by and the police officer who helped him get Loman out of the car.

"I'm glad he's OK," he said of Loman. "I'm glad he gets to spend the holidays with his family. ... I hope somebody would do it for me and my family."