Duluth letter carrier to be honored for heroism at accident sceneLetter carrier Mike Sylvester is being honored by the National Association of Letter Carriers for rescuing a woman in a car crash while on his route.
By: Mike Creger, Duluth News Tribune
Linda Gustafson was lucky it was a quiet Saturday morning in February. Things could have been much worse for her in the heavy weekday traffic usually seen on the steep grade of 24th Avenue West in Lincoln Park.
That was Mike Sylvester’s summation nearly six months after Gustafson’s accident.
Things were bad enough. Gustafson had crashed her car into a utility pole and a home at Third Street after hitting several other objects going down the sidewalk, including traffic signs and a gas meter. It’s believed her brakes failed and she was doing all she could to stop the car.
Finally stopped, the car was now spewing gasoline.
But there was no thinking about any of those factors at the time, Sylvester said. He had been delivering mail about 9:45 a.m. Feb. 4 on his regular Lincoln Park route and saw the cloud of debris Gustafson had created as she tried to stop.
There was another man approaching the car as others warned about the possibility of an explosion from the car or the broken utility line.
“People started to scatter,” Sylvester said.
“We kind of looked at each other and, without saying anything, we went over there.”
Gustafson was injured but able to move, so as the other man worked to free her from her seat belt, Sylvester worked on the wedged door. Onlookers warned that there could be an explosion anytime soon.
Nothing blew up, and the two men were able to guide Gustafson away from further harm and into an ambulance.
Word got around the U.S. Postal Service in Duluth and Sylvester eventually received a letter of commendation from Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe.
Now, he might get to meet the Postal Service’s top man in Washington in person as Sylvester is one of three postal employees from across the nation to receive a “Heroes of the Year Award” from the National Association of Letter Carriers, the union representing mail carriers.
The union’s Duluth president, Scott Dulas, nominated Sylvester for the award.
Dulas was stunned that out of hundreds of nominations, Sylvester won the award for the national union’s central district. The union newsletter lists 20 to 50 heroic stories a month as it celebrates the public service aspect of the job beyond delivering mail.
“I knew he had a shot at it,” Dulas said.
“I basically consider it a part of my job,” Sylvester said of being the helpful eyes, ears and hands for the Lincoln Park neighborhood. “It’s a moral obligation.”
Sylvester will gladly take the days off in September to accept the award in Washington. He’s been spending his vacation time this summer dealing with flooding in his Superior home after the June rainstorm.
“It’s really flattering,” Sylvester said. “I’m looking forward to some real vacation time.”
“He is stressed up to his eyeballs,” Dulas said. He will be with Sylvester and his wife in Washington.
“We’re proud to have someone in the (postal) branch who jumped right in there,” Dulas said.
Wayne and Linda Gustafson didn’t know until Wednesday that anyone but emergency responders helped out that day.
Linda, 74, ended up with three fractured ribs and a lacerated liver and is still recovering from the accident. She had been on her way to her church that morning to help out in the kitchen.
Wayne said it still amazes him that his wife made it through.
“The wrecker guy said he’d never seen a car that had three tires come off the rim,” he said. The accident investigator from the Duluth Police Department had to ask the couple for the make of the car, it was so unrecognizable after the bashing it took down 24th. The car’s battery had been flung onto the street.
“It was worse when you saw it in person,” Wayne said of the damage.
Sylvester, who had never come across an accident scene in the seven years he’s been on the route, said that damage was what propelled him to react the way he did.
“It was all kind of a blur,” he said. “It was adrenaline.”
Wayne Gustafson said the couple is still coping with the accident and found it refreshing to hear about the two good Samaritans.
“I’m so glad people are willing to dig in,” he said.