Boy's hunch saves dad's life
June 12, 2008 · Updated 10:03 AM
"Once delicately settled on a bed at the Bremerton Naval Hospital, Jeff Fulton managed to ask his wife last Friday morning if their 11-year-old son was OK.It's that father-son love, you know, Linda Fulton remembered with a soft laugh. I told him Brad was fine, and then he asked how I was doing.Fulton, his leg severely mangled, still needlessly worried he somehow let his family down more than 16 hours after his motorcycle accident in Tahuya, and eight hours after his wife Linda, their son Brad and their daughter, Elice, feared the worst: That he wouldn't be coming home.Lucky to be alive, Fulton still couldn't stand the thought he disappointed his son, who he promised to pick up at Hidden Creek Elementary School April 27 so they could go on a dirt bike adventure. On leave until his reassignment at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard, the 35-year-old Navy chief enjoyed scheduling outings with his family, and dirt biking is one of those activities he and his son enjoy. Before their afternoon outing, Jeff Fulton planned to go it alone, but he didn't tell anyone exactly where he'd go.And when his father didn't show up at school at 3:30, Brad Fulton waited and worried.I was thinking he was either having a good time or he had got hurt, Brad said. But I knew he would never let me down.A few minutes later, he got scared.So Brad walked to his family's home just south of Port Orchard and called his mother at work. Immediately anxious, Linda Fulton drove home from her job in Auburn as the manager of a light-industrial temporary agency.I've known him for 17 years, and we've been married for 16 years, she said of her husband. I know him so well. He's always where he says he'll be.The couple met in the Navy. She worked as a secretary and he was a distant man in uniform.I got to know his roommate so I could get to know him, Linda said. He was so quiet.Once at home last Thursday, she started calling hospitals and local authorities. The family realized Fulton traveled earlier that day to Tahuya so he could dirt-bike before picking up his son, but no one knew exactly where. Beside himself with worry, Brad couldn't keep still. Elice,14, kept her own counsel.Search parties started to form after Linda contacted the state Department of Natural Resources, a state agency that supervises state land, including wooded areas of Tahuya. She didn't want to search by herself and, besides, she wanted to stay by the phone in case her husband called.Later that night, a police officer called the Fulton home, wondering whether the family knew of a specific place Jeff Fulton might go. Authorities needed a place to start the search, the officer said. Linda didn't know, but Brad suddenly piped up.'I know, I know,' Linda remembers him saying. `He may have gone to a gravelly pit with big rocks.' Brad couldn't remember the name, but that's where he and his father had been together before.Based on that information alone, officers decided Fulton could be lost somewhere at the Sand Hill Gravel Pit in Tahuya.Fulton was there, alright, laying motionless next to a tree. That's where search parties found him at about 2:30 a.m. Friday. His body temperature had dropped to 90 degrees. Out in 38-degree weather, Fulton suffered from mild hypothermia. Had he not managed to gather moss, which he used for a pillow and covered his face with the rest, he would have lost more body heat.He's such a smart man and he knows so much about everything, Linda said. He really saved himself, and so did Brad. He still surprises me all the time with all that he knows.Authorities say they found Fulton just in time. Had he lay there any longer, doctors might have had to amputate his leg below the knee, Linda related. Already, his muscle had turned brown, indicating poor circulation. Worse yet, he may have died, she said.All was well in Tahuya April 27 until Jeff's bike hit a rut in a trail, he told his family. The wheel turned and Jeff slammed against a tree. Doctors later discovered he'd smashed his leg just below the knee. He will undergo several surgeries to piece the bone back together before he can go home. Linda said Jeff could be back home as early as next week.Fulton managed to lift himself back on the bike and tried to slowly ride out, but he lost his balance and he fell over, the motorcycle landing on his bad leg. He noticed how his leg broke, so Fulton straightened it himself and fashioned a splint. Afterword, he tried to hobble out of the park using two sticks as crutches, but he didn't make it very far. He eventually collapsed. In the hospital bed the next day, Fulton told his wife how frustrated he was to hear cars whooshing past. He'd shout for help, but no one could hear him.But his son Brad knew where he might be, and the boy's hunch turned out to be right.He's just thrilled with himself, Linda Fulton said of Brad. he's really happy he saved his father."