Something felt wrong to police Officer Randall Courson one night in January as he was leaving work.
He had seen the headlights of another car approaching as he was returning his patrol car to the Pulaski Township Police Department's parking facility, but a short time later, in his own car as he prepared to leave the lot, he sensed there was something wrong on rural South Valley View Road in Lawrence County.
"I can't explain it, but there was something not right," he said by phone Friday.
His instincts were correct.
Driving toward where he had seen the headlights, Officer Courson saw a pickup truck had driven off the road and landed upside down in about 3 feet of water in Deer Creek, its doors wedged between two sides of the creek bed. He called for backup, then proceeded into the frigid water.
The passenger, Shane McQuiston, 15, of Pulaski, died, but the driver, Ethan Seeber, 17, also of Pulaski, survived, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported in January. The National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund in Washington, D.C., announced Friday that Officer Courson had received April's Officer of the Month Award for his quick response. Ethan's parents credited Officer Courson with saving their son's life, the fund's news release said.
"I was in the right place at the right time," said Officer Courson, 50, of Pulaski. He credited his nearly 25 years of experience as a police officer -- mostly in Howard County, Md., and since 2010 in Pulaski, his hometown -- with providing him with the intuition that something had gone wrong.
The truck's driver later said he had swerved to avoid hitting a deer and had lost control of the vehicle.
When Officer Courson arrived at the scene, the windows of the cab were submerged. He spoke to Ethan, the driver, who said his head was above water, but that he didn't know the condition of his friend, Shane. It was pitch black.
Officer Courson was unable to open the passenger's door, and neither were other officers who arrived. Firefighters arrived, opened the passenger door and Officer Courson was able to cut the seat belt and pull Shane out.
Ethan was released from the car about 10 minutes later and treated for exposure to the cold. Temperatures were in the 20s that night, Officer Courson said, and the driver probably would not have survived if help had not come as soon as it did.
"There's no way the driver would have survived through that," he said. "It was just too cold. He had a hard time, from my understanding, towards the end, keeping his head above water." Officer Courson, along with the 11 other officers who will be honored in 2013, will receive his award at a luncheon in May 2014 in Washington.
Kaitlynn Riely: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1707.