For the effort that made him the Arkansas State Police's newest Trooper of the Year, Chet White got statewide recognition, the admiration of his fellow troopers and the heartfelt gratitude of one of his colleagues.
And he got to keep an undefeated softball pitcher.
White, a state police corporal who lives in Saline County, received the honor last month for his quick thinking and know-how that saved 12-year-old Aubrey Williams after a utility terrain vehicle crash on June 18, 2020. The 22-year state police veteran lifted the 1,800-pound vehicle enough for Aubrey to be pulled out from under it, and then repeatedly administered CPR until medical help arrived.
White was off-duty at the time and was, in fact, preparing for a cookout at his deer camp for the girls who were in the UTV, including Aubrey and his daughter, Tessa. They played on the softball team White coached, and Aubrey was the daughter of Nathan Williams, a fellow trooper.
The outing nearly became a nightmare, except for White's actions.
According to White, the day began as a birthday celebration for his daughter on land passed down through White's family in Saline County.
"It kind of worked out perfect," White said. "During the heart of covid, we couldn't do big parties or nothing, so I told my daughter to invite a few friends, and we could either go to deer camp and hang out or go to the lake. And she actually chose to go to deer camp."
Nathan Williams said Aubrey and Tessa have been friends from a young age, and he has developed a friendship with White because of their daughters' similar ages.
"When I met the guys in the area, [White] said his daughter was the same age as my daughter so we let them meet," Williams said. "We didn't know if they were going to be friends or what, but it would be nice that she was going to have a familiar face."
Aubrey also pitched on a junior softball team with Tessa, a team that White coaches.
At the deer camp, the teenagers could ride on off-road vehicles before a cookout that evening. Just after 1:30 p.m. and a couple of hours after they arrived, the girls checked in with White before riding off on the UTV.
Not long after White heard one of his daughter's friends yelling for him while running his direction.
"I realized something was wrong," White said. "Your mind kind of goes wild there for a minute."
White jumped into his truck and drove to where the Polaris Ranger had overturned, and quickly determined that Aubrey was trapped underneath the vehicle.
"The ranger's sitting right on top of her shoulder blades area," White said.
White lifted the UTV enough for Tessa to drag her friend out. The action of dragging her caused some complications, but in the middle of land out in the countryside, there was little time for hesitation.
"I remember worrying about head injuries, neck injuries," White said. "It's all split-second thinking that I've got to get her out to work on her and see what's going on with her."
Aubrey was in bad shape, he said. Her leg was severely injured, and White could not find a pulse. Instinctively, he reverted to the CPR training he learned when he first became an officer.
"I went back to how we did CPR back in the late 90s, early 2000s, when we still did chest compressions and breaths," White said. "I guess sometimes you revert back to the training you learn first."
Then, White heard a big gasp. Aubrey was breathing again and struggling to take in air. She was with White for 10-15 seconds before lapsing back into unconsciousness.
Tessa was on the phone with 911, and White grabbed the phone, identifying himself as a trooper and asking for an ambulance and an airlift.
"Seeing so many accidents over the years, I knew I needed a helicopter and an ambulance," White said. "Sometimes if you identify yourself as an Arkansas State Trooper, they'll get you what you need."
As Aubrey regained consciousness, White called Williams to let Aubrey hear her father's voice.
"My first thought was I'm on my way," Williams said. "My mindset was I'm getting there even though I knew the helicopter was on its way, and it was going to beat me back to Little Rock before I even got there."
The ambulance was guided in by the same friend who alerted White to the crash, and the helicopter landed in a hayfield on the property.
"They came out and landed in the hay meadow, which worked out because the hay had just been cut," White said. "And the guy had just cleared all the hay off of it."
Meanwhile, Williams and his wife were frantic. The helicopter was based in Hot Springs, but the two were unsure if Aubrey would be taken to a Hot Springs hospital or to a Little Rock hospital.
After determining that the helicopter would land at Arkansas Children's Hospital in Little Rock, Williams rushed there and met his first of what would be many covid-19 policy roadblocks.
"Because of covid protocols, you can't come in the hospital until she actually gets admitted, and even then, only one parent can come into the hospital," he said. "We knew she was absolutely critical. We didn't even know if she was going to be alive when the helicopter landed."
The hospital staff, after some convincing, made exceptions, Williams said.
Aubrey was conscious, but there was a lot of uncertainty in White's mind about her condition as she was airlifted to the hospital.
"I just remember not knowing," White said. "Then we packed everything up and headed to Little Rock where family and friends were waiting."
White collapsed from exhaustion when he reached the hospital as the adrenaline wore off.
Doctors filled Williams in on his daughter's injuries.
"Because of her lung injuries, they said that as they heal, they were going to get worse before they get better," he said. "Because they were so bad, she wasn't producing enough oxygen. If her oxygen got too low for too long, her other organs would start failing."
Once it became clear that Aubrey was stable, only one parent was allowed inside her hospital room at a time.
The hospital made exceptions a few more times. Williams said he could tell that when he and his wife were both allowed into the room together, it was an extremely critical time for Aubrey.
"Once they got her stabilized, only one of us could be in that room at a time," Williams said. "When there were certain times that they made exceptions for both of us to be in the room, because she was doing pretty bad. It was nice that we were both in the room at the same time, but you know the reason why they were letting us be in there at the same time."
There were also concerns with Aubrey's condition because of covid-19. Williams said it crossed his mind a few times, in her vulnerable state, that they were in a hospital with covid-19 patients near his daughter who had a severe lung injury.
After 10 long days in the hospital, Aubrey was released just in time to watch the final game of the softball season. She attended in a wheelchair.
"We said 'we'll surprise them,'" Williams said. "Because Chet, he was the coach. And the two girls that were with Aubrey were playing. So we kind of went down there and surprised them."
The 2021 softball season arrived with uncertainty about whether Aubrey could play at all, let alone pitch. White said she had a significant limp shortly before the season started.
Williams had his concerns as well, but left it to his daughter to decide if she would pitch.
"We were kind of worried with all of her injuries how effective she could be at pitching," he said. "We weren't going to tell her no."
White said the recovery was miraculous.
"By the time softball season started, it was amazing, because we didn't know if she was going to be able to pitch," White said. "She got up there to pitch one day. It took her a little bit of time, but next thing you know, this girl is throwing strikes from 40 feet away."
The team went 12-1 this season, winning their league with Aubrey undefeated from the pitcher's mound, according to White.
The accident brought the two families closer together. Tessa was in the driver's seat when the accident occurred. White said she felt to blame and was relieved after a FaceTime call with Aubrey that Aubrey would be OK.
"I could see some of the relief in her eyes," White said.
Arkansas State Police Director Col. Bill Bryant and Attorney General Leslie Rutledge presented the Trooper of the Year award to White on June 30 during their annual awards ceremony.
Williams was a crucial part of getting White nominated for the award.
"I called our supervisor, and I said, 'I know this didn't really happen while Chet was on duty, but he saved her life and used his training and experience as a trooper to save her life,'" Williams said. "'Is there anything we can do to honor him?'"
Through Williams' prodding, White was nominated for a lifesaving award after it was determined that he acted in his capacity as a state trooper once there was an emergency.
"It was amazing to see him get it," Williams said. "All three of the girls were there at the awards ceremony."