Local Hero: Sulphur Springs teen helps Paris police find missing disabled man
Patti Sells | News-Telegram Feature Editor

After hearing cries for help in a wooded area last Friday night while riding four-wheelers with his grandfather in Paris, Caleb Routon, a freshman at Sulphur Springs High School, led Paris police and emergency personnel to a disabled man who had been missing since Dec. 5, then drove him to safety on his ATV.
Staff Photo By Angela Pitts

Dec. 16, 2005 -- When Caleb Routon heard cries for help last Friday night while riding four-wheelers with his grandfather in Paris, he had no idea he would soon lead police to a disabled man who had been missing for days.

"I think it was a matter of being at the right place at the right time. Or maybe an answer to prayer," said Caleb, a Sulphur Springs High School freshman who had gone to spend the night with his grandfather, D.C. Ford, in Paris. "It was nothing I ever expected to do."

Brandon Thomas Echols, 34, suffered brain damage and paralysis from a motorcycle wreck 13 years ago and now lives with his parents, Richard and Mae Echols, on the west side of Paris. He was reported missing Monday, Dec. 5, after he left home about 1 p.m. on his red motorized scooter to go to a nearby Braum's. Hours later, there was no sign of him.

His parents contacted Paris police, who initiated the "A Child Is Missing," program, which generates thousands of telephone calls in the vicinity where a missing person was last seen.

After four days of searching, Echols had still not been found.

Caleb had heard news of the missing man earlier in the week, but admitted he had really not given it much thought. He went to Paris Friday after school to spend the weekend with his grandparents. Shortly after, they loaded the four-wheeler into his grandfather's pickup truck and headed for property on the west side of Loop 286, just outside the city limits.

"We were riding around Lake Bowerman when I heard someone hollering for help out in the woods," said Caleb, who alerted his grandfather to the pleas. "It was after dark and it was kind of scary. We didn't really know what to do.  We didn't want to put ourselves in a bad situation if it was somebody playing a trick or something."

Instead, Caleb and his grandfather quickly went back to the truck and called 911. 

When a Paris police officer arrived they led the officer back to the wooded area where they had heard the cries for help and called out to the person in distress.

"We heard somebody call back, 'Help me, please help me,'" recalled Caleb.

The trio proceeded into the woods, and located Brandon Thomas Echols on the ground. His scooter was found approximately 50 yards away, according to Caleb.

"His eyes were real big, and he kept saying he was thirsty," Caleb recalled. "I was just shocked. I couldn't believe it."

Caleb said the officer asked him to return to his vehicle and call for emergency medical personnel, then wait for them and lead them to the scene. But when they arrived, their ambulance couldn't get through the rugged terrain, so they had to walk much of the way. After securing Echols to a stretcher, he was loaded on the back of Caleb's four-wheeler, and Caleb drove the disabled man out of the woods to safety.

Echols was taken to a Paris hospital for treatment of dehydration and frostbite. According to his mother, he underwent surgery Wednesday morning to have one of his feet amputated due to frostbite. He remained in the intensive care unit Thursday in serious but stable condition.

According to Paris police Sgt. Shane Boatright, Echols is "very, very lucky." Police are still not sure how he ended up in the heavily wooded area, or how the young man was able to survive subfreezing temperatures wearing only a light jacket and jeans. Police say it is unlikely that he could have ventured that far off the main road and into the woods with his electric scooter. They are investigating the case as a criminal matter.

"They said he probably wouldn't have lasted another night, but he had a lot of prayers going up for him," said Mae Echols, Brandon's mother. "That family deserves credit for saving his life. He may be 34 years old, but he is still  my baby. We are so grateful and appreciative to Caleb and his grandfather. We can't really express our thanks enough. We do feel like it was a miracle that he was found when he was so deep out in the woods."

Caleb’s parents, Gina and Kurt Routon, said the experience made them very proud of the 14-year-old.

"When he called and told me about what he had done, he said, 'Dad, I made a difference today,'" said Kurt Routon. “I'm glad he realized that. We're really proud of him."

"It was pretty neat," said Caleb.

�I do kind of feel like a hero in a way.�

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