PARKSTON -- A crash earlier this month in Bon Homme County has a Parkston family counting their blessings, the community rallying, and those who helped asserting that the ordeal was orchestrated by a higher power.

“In a way I have never felt before, I felt God present. I knew He was there, seeing those kids” and how they reacted to the trauma, said Kara Frei, of Wagner.

Frei was among several passersby who stopped to help the Rev. Michael “Mike” Boyle and his seven children, ages ranging from 8 months to 14 years, in the moments after their Suburban crashed June 2.

The Boyles were driving from Parkston to Tyndall for an afternoon of fun with cousins. The eldest child, Michael Boyle, who has his learner’s permit, was driving the family’s 1994 K1500 Suburban.

According to initial reports from the S.D. Department of Public Safety, Michael fell asleep at the wheel, veered into the west ditch of Highway 37, two miles north of the Highway 46 intersection, hit a field approach and rolled multiple times.

Mike, who was sitting in the front-passenger seat of the vehicle, said that, while he is not typically one to argue fact, he struggles to believe his son “‘fell asleep’ in the traditional sense like we would think of getting tired and falling asleep. … I was sitting next to him, talking, right before it happened. When somebody falls asleep, their head is bouncing around a little before that. I didn’t see that happen. We were carrying on a conversation … and he was really excited (for) an afternoon of fun. ... Maybe he daydreamed or lost his concentration for a second or two, but as far as actually falling asleep, that doesn’t match with what I saw.”

The details of the crash are “fuzzy,” according to Mike’s wife, Isabel Boyle, but “how it ended up is a miracle.”

Are you sure there are seven?

Isabel was lying down to rest on Sunday, June 2 after a busy weekend of flood cleanup and a rummage sale while her family went to Tyndall to spend time with cousins. But her rest was soon interrupted by a phone call from a stranger, informing her that her family had been in a crash.

A man the family knows only as “Shannon” used Michael’s phone to “call mom.”

“I made him go through and count my children four times” as she hurried to her car to head to the scene. “I kept asking, ‘Are you sure there are seven? Could you just go count them again?’” Isabel recalled. “He said, ‘Well, I think so, but there are a lot of them,’ and he counted them again and again.’”

Isabel Boyle laughs while talking about her kids. (Matt Gade / Republic)
Isabel Boyle laughs while talking about her kids. (Matt Gade / Republic)

Isabel arrived at the scene 35 miles from her home, just as the last ambulance arrived. As she traveled, a crew of good Samaritans united to care for her family.

Blake Dilley, of Yankton, was following the Boyle vehicle and another that passed them just as the crash happened.

“I thought maybe he was moving over to let them get around, but then he took a sharp turn into the ditch, hit the approach, nose-dived, twisted and rolled twice,” landing on the Suburban’s top, Dilley said. “It was like something out of a movie.”

Dilley, who is trained in military combat response, pulled to the side of the road and ran to the vehicle.

“A little girl, who I later learned was (7-year-old) Katelyn, was screaming that her leg hurt,” Dilley said.

He knew she broke her leg, quickly assessed her, removed her seat belt and took her from the vehicle to a couple whom he asked to stay with her.

“When I turned around, there were three or four other people trying to get people out of the driver’s side,” Dilley recalled, adding that they struggled to remove the children from the vehicle, due to their seat belts being locked.

On the passenger side of the vehicle, he found that a baby, 8-month-old Melody Boyle, was in the backseat of the vehicle. Dilley climbed through the back of the vehicle to help another man, who entered through the side, to release her from her car seat before returning to Mike.

Mike, who last year unsuccessfully ran for a seat in the South Dakota Legislature, was lying unresponsive on top of 10-year-old Joseph Boyle.

“I grabbed (Mike’s) shoulder and asked if he was OK,” but he didn’t respond until Dilley rubbed his knuckles on his sternum. “He let out a (groan). … I shook him and asked if he was all right. Probably 30 seconds later, he came to,” Dilley said.

Dilley pulled Mike from the vehicle and instructed him to lie still.

“I could tell he had broken ribs, and he said his back hurt, so I didn’t know if had a spinal injury,” Dilley said.

He then went back for Joseph, who had a considerable cut on his head. Dilley handed him off to another couple, along with a towel to apply pressure to his wound and instructions to watch for signs of head trauma.

An answer to prayer

Mike’s first memory of the crash is “waking up to screaming” and wondering how many casualties there had been.

“I remember (Mike) saying, ‘Dear Lord,’” Frei said.

Instinctively, she reached for Mike’s hand and began to recite the Lord’s Prayer.

“When I have any sort of fear or uncertainty … I pray the Lord’s Prayer,” she said.

Dilley joined in, holding Mike’s other hand as they prayed together and Frei simultaneously helped pull 13-year-old Annabelle Boyle from the Suburban.

For the pastor, who typically is the catalyst for prayer in moments of catastrophe, having a bystander initiate prayer “ministered to my soul. It reminded me to focus on my faith instead of fear and I found strength and a sense of calmness that comforted me throughout the whole situation.”

As the prayer concluded, Mike felt a great relief when he asked aloud whether any of his children had perished in the wreck.

“They said no one had died, but they were still checking them over. I broke down crying,” he recalled, his voice cracking.

When EMTs arrived approximately 15 minutes after the crash, Dilley continued to offer assistance until he noticed Michael pacing in the ditch.

Dilley went over and asked if Michael was the driver.

“He said he was, and I gave him a big hug and let him cry,” said Dilley, who then sent Michael to an EMT who examined the blood and glass Dilley noticed as they embraced.

Frei was moved by the children’s composure throughout the incident.

Cards from Mike and Isabel Boyle's kids hang inside Mike's room when he was at Avera St Benedict Health Center in Parkston. (Matt Gade / Republic)
Cards from Mike and Isabel Boyle's kids hang inside Mike's room when he was at Avera St Benedict Health Center in Parkston. (Matt Gade / Republic)

“I will never forget how brave those children were and how there for each other they were,” she said. “They clearly have a bond that is unshakable, and their concern for one another and for their family was beautiful … I remember Annabelle looking for the baby. … She was fine, and I made sure she could get to her sister.”

Frei wrapped Melody in a blanket one of her children had in the car and handed her off to a couple who cared for her until she was taken to the hospital on Annabelle’s lap.

Once the last ambulance left the scene, Dilley and Frei, who did not exchange names, embraced and cried.

“I didn’t know them, but I will forever have this family in my heart,” Frei said. “I am so, so glad that all but one of those children slept in their own beds that night.”

Hospital help

Once she arrived at the St. Michael’s Hospital in the third and final ambulance, Isabel said she was overwhelmed with determining who to check on first and who needed her most.

“I’d never been to the Tyndall hospital before, and I had family members everywhere,” she said. “We had two in the big emergency room, and the rest were spread out throughout the hallway.”

Because the crash happened in the area where many of Mike’s family members live, Isabel had plenty of support waiting for her when she arrived.

“I had at least one family member in each room,” she said.

A helicopter soon transported Katelyn Boyle from Tyndall to Avera McKennan Hospital in Sioux Falls, her leg in a traction splint to pull her broken femur apart. Because the chopper was full of fuel, no extra passengers could fly with the 7-year-old, so the pastor leaned on God to bring hope to his young daughter.

“I prayed with her at the hospital, and I said, ‘I know you’re going to feel like you’re alone, but you’re never alone, because God is with you,’” he said.

Mike Boyle works with Occupational Therapist Renee Lentsch on moving around recently at Avera St Benedict Health Center in Parkston. (Matt Gade / Republic)
Mike Boyle works with Occupational Therapist Renee Lentsch on moving around recently at Avera St Benedict Health Center in Parkston. (Matt Gade / Republic)

Mike’s father left the hospital as soon as the decision was made, and met his granddaughter in Sioux Falls. Isabel took each child to visit their father in the ER before he left for Sioux Falls by ambulance with his sister, whom he’d intended to visit that day, by his side. Once he was enroute, the children made their way through the St. Michael’s CT machine one by one as their mother awaited results.

Michael was treated for a concussion and seat belt bruising. Annabelle had a few scratches. Joseph’s facial and ear lacerations were repaired with stitches, and he likely had a mild concussion. Sarah, 9, required internal and external stitches on her leg and had a few other cuts and bruises. Allison was unscathed. And Melody had a small bump and a scratch on her forehead.

At Avera McKennan, Katelyn had a plate put in to fix her broken femur the day after on June 3.

June 4, Mike underwent a six-hour double surgery to put plates in to repair his broken hip and wrist. He struggled to awaken after surgery, and a medically induced coma before he awoke to what he described as “a tornado in my bed, breathing for me.” The ventilator soon was removed, and he was transferred to a regular hospital bed to recover from surgery and four fractured ribs.

“Recovery is a lot harder than people think. You think it’s just allowing your body to be healed, but there’s so much going on — people coming in at 1 a.m, 2 a.m, 4 a.m., and then they come in at 6 a.m. and ask if you got some rest,” joked Mike, who turned 37 on June 5.

Katelyn returned home from the hospital June 6, and Mike was released to Avera St. Benedict Hospital for rehab June 7.

Mike said he was grateful to be able to rehab at the local hospital, where he could see his home out the window and even kept watch as his family made their way to church the Sunday following the crash, with Katelyn in her wheelchair.

On June 16, Mike enjoyed a bit of time out of the hospital to celebrate Father’s Day with his family and with his church family. His own father, a retired minister, preached on his behalf at the local park for Memorial Baptist Church’s annual Father’s Day celebration.

June 18, the Boyle family all slept under one roof for the first time in 16 days.

A sea of support

Once Mike and Katelyn were settled into Avera McKennan, Mike’s family took over the ice, medication and assessment protocol for the other six children at home, so Isabel could travel to Sioux Falls.

Knowing she needed help to return her home to the state it was in prior to the flood and the rummage sale, plus install a wheelchair ramp and make other occupational therapy-suggested modifications to the home, Isabel has adapted to enlisting the help of others, including her parents, who arrived from Florida on June 5.

Friends and family have banded together to provide various services, including meals, laundry assistance, cleaning and childcare.

“I couldn’t even count the ways that everyone” has come together, Mike said. “Our church family has been great, but really the whole community has come together. … By the time I had my surgery on Tuesday, there were over 1,000 people who said they were praying for us. That’s pretty awesome.”

The bruises have started fading, the stitches are coming out, and most of the Boyle children are back to their active selves, but Katelyn continues to move mostly with a wheelchair, with increased walker use as days go by.

Since the crash, a schedule has been created for fill-in preachers at Memorial Baptist Church. Last Sunday, however, traditional preaching was set to the side, and instead Boyle shared about his family’s ordeal from the electric scooter a church member loaned him while he is unable to bear weight on his healing hip. He anticipates at least another three weekends will pass before he is back to his regular duties.

Particular about seat belts

Although a preliminary report following the crash indicated that Michael was not wearing his seat belt, Mike and Isabel maintain that he was, and an emergency room report from St. Michael’s, plus a large contusion across his chest, prove it to be true.

According to Tony Mangan, spokesperson for the S.D. Highway Patrol, the preliminary report was based on information troopers received from another first responder, but further investigation proved that Michael was restrained at the time of the crash.

“He was very much looking forward to getting the next phase of his restricted license, and he is our rule-keeper,” Isabel said, adding a hypothesis that, perhaps, the reports had become confused because both front-row occupants of the vehicle share the name Michael Boyle.

Mike Boyle learns to put on socks without bending over from his Occupational Therapist Renee Lentsch at Avera St Benedict Health Center in Parkston. (Matt Gade / Republic)
Mike Boyle learns to put on socks without bending over from his Occupational Therapist Renee Lentsch at Avera St Benedict Health Center in Parkston. (Matt Gade / Republic)

“He’s pretty particular about” seat belt use, Mike added.

The initial report also indicated that some of the other children may have been riding without seat belts. Mike said that, while he did not put on his own seat belt, the children were all restrained when they left home.

“We made sure everybody had their seat belts on when we pulled out,” but he acknowledged that some of the children may have removed them en route. “I know all their seat belts worked and all that, but I don’t know whether they all had their seat belts on at that time.”

Dilley said he is confident that everyone on the driver’s side of the vehicle, for sure, was restrained, because removing seat belts slowed the good Samaritans’ response on-scene.

Melody, Allison and Katelyn all were in car seats at the time of impact, and Isabel pointed out that, with the exception of Katelyn’s leg, they sustained the most minor injuries.

“She had the marks (from the belts), but something hit her leg just right to cause that fracture,” Isabel said.

Re-evaluating the future

The Boyles, who have always been a close family, said the crash has helped them re-prioritize.

“Life is a precious gift from God. We’ve been given an extra-special gift, so we want to not take it for granted, because there are a lot of people who don’t get extra chances like we got,” Mike said.

And it’s been life-changing for those who happened upon the crash, too.

A week and a half before, Dilley said he told his mom, who is an EMT in Arlington, that he was considering following her lead.

“I didn’t know where to start,” but the 25-year-old made contact with EMS instructors since the accident, inquiring about classes. “Hopefully soon I can get that going,” he said. “After that day, I instantly decided I need to know more and know what to do. … I want to be able to know more and not be in the situation again where I don’t know if what I’m doing is right. I want to be able to jump and just know.”

On June 2, Dilley said the bits of knowledge he’s garnered over the years from chatter between his EMT mom, firefighter dad, nurse grandma and respiratory therapy aunt, as well as his military combat response, came together to help the Boyle family, but he believes something bigger helped him spring into action.

“I’d like to say it’s experience,” he said, “but this is the most traumatic thing that’s ever happened in my life. It has to be God. There’s no other explanation. I’ve never experienced trauma like this before. … I don’t know what else to give the glory to. It just had to have been God.”

Dilley and Frei both have checked on the family since the crash, and they hope to one day meet them under better circumstances. But both good Samaritans said they are not heroes.

“I was not, by any means, the biggest helper or the only one who did anything,” Frei said. “The people who stopped — I’ll never forget their faces, but I wish I knew their names, so the Boyle family could know them, too.”