Jason Noorthoek Jr. didn't want to go outside. It was pitch-black, and he was afraid there might be coyotes 'as big as pigs'. But the 12-year-old didn't have a choice. His mother, Brenda, was worried about his father and demanded he go. Every evening after he got home from work, Jason Noorthoek Sr. worked on cars in the driveway, but on this night he had to fix Brenda's car, which had been stalling for days. Usually, Brenda heard her husband come in and out of the house to gather his tools, but not tonight. She hadn't heard a thing for at least an hour. 'Go and find him,' she told Jason and his sister, Jamie.
It was a chilly October night with just ten days left until Halloween. In the darkness, the two kids edged towards the Buick. Jason waved a tiny flashlight from side to side. 'Dad? Dad?' he called into the shadows. 'Jason?' It was his father, but his voice sounded different. He talked slowly, in a way that Jason would later describe as 'hurt.'
Earlier that evening, as the sun was just about to set, Noorthoek diagnosed the Buick's problem: a faulty fuel pump. That meant he'd have to get underneath the car. Normally, he'd use a jack to lift it, but it was getting dark and he wasn't dressed warmly, so to speed things up, he used the forklift he'd recently bought for his salvage business.
Noorthoek slid the forks under the Buick's back bumper and then raised the car until its back end was two feet off the ground. After he crawled under the car, he saw that the forklift had bent the exhaust pipe. He gave the pipe a kick to bend it back into shape. 'I'm always the first one to preach safety,' he says, thinking back on the one precaution he forgot to take. Noorthoek didn't place blocks in front of the car's front tires to keep it from rolling forward off the forks. Which is exactly what it did after he gave the exhaust pipe a couple more kicks.
Jason saw his dad's feet sticking out from underneath the car. By now, Noorthoek had been trapped for almost an hour, with the crooked exhaust pipe pushing into his chest. Unable to take a full breath, he shivered in the cold and drifted in and out of consciousness. Jamie ran into the house and told her mother to call for help.
Jason knew that his mother and sister couldn't lift the four-door sedan, but that didn't stop them from trying. When it didn't budge, the two started to panic. 'Calm down. It'll be okay,' Jason said softly.
The sixth grader had driven the forklift only once before, and he'd nearly smashed it into a parked car. At 90 pounds, he didn't have the strength to depress the 10,000-pound vehicle's brakes. Ever since, he'd been afraid to get back on. But now Jason couldn't afford to be scared. He climbed on and started it up. 'Every time he turned the ignition key, it pushed the car forward onto me,' his father says. 'I kept saying, 'Neutral! Neutral!''
Jason figured out the machine's complicated gearshift and moved it into neutral as he slid the forks under the car. He pulled a lever, and the Buick started to rise. Finally, the tires were off the ground and Noorthoek could breathe again for a moment. Like his dad, Jason forgot to put blocks in front of the tires. As the back end of the car rose into the air, the car rolled forward again and crashed back onto Noorthoek.
Desperate now, Jason pulled the forklift's lever once more. Again, the Buick started to come off the ground, but this time, for whatever reason, the front tires didn't roll and the car remained suspended in the air.
Minutes later, Township's fire chief, Mike Rexford, arrived. Noorthoek lay under the car, ashen but breathing. His internal injuries were minor, but, according to Rexford, his situation was perilous. 'The outcome's never been this good,' he now says. 'How long could he have lasted like that?'
It wasn't until his dad was loaded into an ambulance that the magnitude of the night's events caught up with Jason. 'I told him he probably saved his father,' says Rexford. Jason broke down and started to sob.
His father was released from the hospital early the next morning. 'I didn't stop shaking until I got home,' Noorthoek says. Jason says one happy change has come out of the accident: he gets to spend more time with his dad. Jason Sr., who hasn't touched a car since the Buick fell on him, often spends evenings with Jason playing video games.
(Adapted from 'In the Nick of Time' by Charlie Schroeder)
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Jason was afraid to drive a forklift because
- he had never done it before.
- he was not strong enough to depress the brakes.
- he didn't want to hurt his father.
- he had once had an accident.
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