The wind chill was -5 degrees when a Wisconsin snowplow driver clearing the streets thought he saw something standing in the road around 4 a.m. Friday.
“I thought it was a deer or dog,” David Gehrke, 61, told the Washington County Insider.
He said it’s not uncommon to see wildlife while he’s out plowing in West Bend. But as Gehrke got closer, he realized it wasn’t an animal at all — it was a boy.
“Turns out it was a child in his pajamas,” he told the Insider. “No jacket or hat. If it were anybody else driving by, I don’t think you would have seen him because my lights are on the curb.”
Police said Gehrke stopped his snowplow and scooped up the 5-year-old boy, who was eager to warm up in the snowplow.
“I immediately took my jacket off and wrapped it around him and put him in the truck,” Gehrke told WISN. “I got the heat blasting in the truck. I’ll keep him warm until we get help on the way.”
Gehrke called police, who learned the boy, Maddox Pierce, had left home while his babysitter was asleep.
He’d wandered about block from his home when Gehrke spotted him.
The boy told police he got scared because he thought he was home alone and decided to go to his grandpa’s house, according to WISN. Police eventually drove Maddox safely home.
The boy’s mom, Brittany Weissenburger, was at work at the time of the incident
“I’ve been a mess since everything happened. He’s never, ever done anything like that before,” she told WISN. “I’m so thankful. What are the odds that (Gehrke) would find him at that exact moment that he pretty much came outside?”
Gehrke said he was grateful he happened upon Maddox when he did.
“The kid would have (frozen) to death if I hadn’t seen him,” he told the Insider. “His hands were tucked in his jammies and his feet were cold but not frostbit. He was a happy kid. He couldn’t tell me where grandpa lived but he had a lot of questions about the truck.”
Police lauded Gehrke for his actions, awarding him, and several others, with the city’s Citizen Award.
“Mr. Gehrke’s immediate action likely saved the life of this child, as he would not have survived more than a few minutes the way he was dressed in the subzero conditions,” police said.
West Bend is roughly 40 miles north of Milwaukee.