Larry Robinson knows he’s a lucky man.
He could have easily died on the night of Dec. 18 after being ejected through a side window of his pickup as it rolled several times across a field on the southern edge of Hamilton.
Unconscious, with blood turning the snow red under his head, Robinson was at the mercy of the elements on that frigid night.
He might have died if it hadn’t been for Oso.
Bobbie Widder was sitting in her car waiting for her husband to come out of the Lone Pine Convenience store with her soda when she noticed the large, three-year-old Yellow Labrador Retriever walk by.
“It was really, really cold out that night,” Widder said. “When my husband came back outside, I asked if he had seen the dog. I didn’t want to take off and just leave it there in the cold.”
At the time, there were no other customers at the store and traffic was sparse.
The couple found Oso shivering next to the store.
“He was skittish and shaking like crazy,” Widder said. “He was right there on the north side of the store.”
And when they looked up from the dog, they spotted Robinson’s pickup truck upside down in the vacant field right across the road.
They both ran to the man crumpled in the snow.
Widder remembers the fence post that was just a foot away from his head.
“If he would have hit that, it probably would have been over,” she said. “My husband held the guy’s head out of the snow. He asked if he was hurt. The guy told him his back hurt a little.”
“We didn’t even know that he was bleeding from his head until we got home,” Widder said. “My husband had blood all the way up his arm.”
Robinson’s longtime partner, Denise Linnell, had been waiting for him to arrive back home after a long day of thawing pipes from underneath trailer homes in the East Fork of the Bitterroot.
“I was really starting to get worried,” she said. “You know, he’s no spring chicken any more.”
Robinson was transported via ambulance first to Marcus Daly Memorial Hospital and then onto St. Pat’s in Missoula, where stayed for 12 days in the intensive care unit.
His ribs were broken in 17 places. His back was cracked, pelvis broken, kidneys bruised and the doctors drained two and a half quarts of liquid from around his lungs so he could breathe again. It took 17 staples to seal up the cut on his head.
“I know I’m a very lucky man,” Robinson said late last week at his Hamilton home.
Robinson doesn’t remember the wreck. He has no idea how he ended up being ejected through one of the side windows. He doesn’t know how he avoided having the truck roll over on top of him.
“All I can remember is all of a sudden being out there in the snow,” he said. “I was unconscious and then I woke up in the field. It was really cold.”
Now safe back at home, Robinson said the accident has taught him a lesson that he wishes everyone would take to heart.
“I’ve always been one of those guys who never wore my seatbelt,” he said. “I never thought I needed it. Was I ever wrong. I’ll never drive again without one.”
He hopes when the day comes again to drive that Oso will be willing to crawl back into the passenger seat.
“He’s always gone everywhere I go,” Robinson said. “I’ve had him since he was a pup. He’s pretty much been with me all the time.”
Robinson doesn’t doubt that his dog played a big role in helping him to survive that night.
Oso survived the wreck without a scratch. He could have easily picked up and run home afterwards.
“He knew the way back here,” Robinson said, with a smile. “Instead, he stuck around and he found help. I know he loves me.”
Widder said someone probably would have eventually spotted the overturned truck.
“I don’t know for sure if we would have seen him if it hadn’t been for that dog coming by,” she said. “From what I hear, he’s kind of famous for taking that dog everywhere he goes. I guess that’s why they’re called man’s best friend.”
Special thanks to Perry Backus and Ravalli Republic