DECATUR — It was just an ordinary early morning commute for two men on May 21, until a matter of minutes left a lasting effect on both.
Matt Dickerson, 36, was driving one of two cars struck by a hit-and-run driver at 22nd and Locust streets. Dickerson’s vehicle received the brunt of the impact, and he blacked out momentarily.
Dylan Pritts, 32, is a Decatur firefighter who was on his way to work at 6:30 a.m. when he witnessed the accident. By the time Dickerson regained consciousness, Pritts was there, telling him to stay calm and asking what hurt.
Dickerson said he felt pain in his shoulder, so Pritts stabilized his neck.
“He was just basically telling me to hold still, try not to move,” Dickerson said. “... I had so much adrenaline going after getting hit, I was just trying to get out of the car. I just wanted to get out of there.”
The ambulance soon arrived to take Dickerson to the hospital. Pritts continued on his way to work, where he did not mention what he’d done.
After Dickerson received an operation, a doctor told the family that his C-6 vertebrae had disintegrated and his C-5 vertebrae had been fractured in the accident. It is likely that Pritts’ actions helped save Dickerson from paralysis or even death, the doctor said.
Mark O. Connlley, 30, was arrested May 26 and has been charged in connection with the incident.
Dickerson’s family contacted the Decatur Fire Department, seeking to have Pritts recognized.
“When I went out and talked to Dylan, of course, he was pretty humble about the whole thing,” Fire Chief Matt Sekosky said. “He said, ‘I was just doing my thing. I was doing our job,’ and I was like, ‘Yeah, but you saved a guy’s life, man.’”
That modest attitude continued Monday, when Pritts was recognized by the Decatur City Council, as well as state Sen. Chapin Rose, R-Mahomet, and state Rep. Sue Scherer, D-Decatur.
Pritts received a standing ovation from all of the occupants of the council chambers when he was presented with the Stephen Decatur Medallion by Mayor Mike McElroy.
Dickerson and his family attended, as well as Pritts’ family members. But Pritts, who joined the department in September 2004, deflected the praise.
“It’s nice to get some recognition for things that you do on a daily basis, but really, I’m more proud that I belong to a department that’s filled with individuals that wouldn’t hesitate to do the exact same thing that I did,” he said. “I just happen to be the one who was right there.”
When he speaks about the dedication of Decatur firefighters, Pritts is also speaking of his own family. His brother, 30-year-old Ryan Pritts, is a member of the department. Their father, former Capt. Jeff Pritts, retired last year.
“I would’ve retired earlier if they hadn’t come on the job,” Jeff Pritts said with a chuckle. “I just wanted the opportunity to work with them for a while.”
With a husband and two sons as firefighters, Jan Pritts has learned how to cope with the threat of danger.
“What I have done, as long as Jeff’s been a fireman, is when he walks out the door, I send up a prayer and then I don’t think about it, because it is a dangerous job,” she said. “That’s the way I choose to live with it. I have a lot of faith.”