When Duane Merrick suffered a stroke at the wheel of his UPS truck on June 30, any number of tragic outcomes could have resulted.
The truck, swerving across the center line on Roeder Avenue near Squalicum Harbor, almost hit an oncoming car. It could have run over a pedestrian, crashed into a building or fallen in the bay.
Yet nearly one month after the stroke, Merrick was thanking Colin Bertrand, the Whatcom County Sheriff’s deputy who saved his life, in a meeting at the UPS Customer Service Center in Bellingham with his co-workers on Wednesday morning, July 29.
“This story isn’t about me,” Merrick said. “The story is about what the sheriff’s deputy, the paramedics, and the hospital staff did for me.”
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Bertrand was passing by Squalicum Harbor in his patrol car around 4:30 p.m. Tuesday, June 30. He was behind a UPS truck on Roeder Avenue, and he noticed the truck cross over the center line. Bertrand didn’t think much about it until the truck swerved again — this time almost hitting an oncoming car, Bertrand said.
The truck, traveling 25 or 30 mph, made a wide turn onto Coho Way, causing another car to stop and pull over.
Pedestrians were walking nearby and a semi truck was driving in the opposite direction, Bertrand said. After the UPS truck over-corrected and bumped into a curb, Bertrand turned on his lights. Bertrand pulled up on the side, thinking he would find someone who had stolen the truck. Instead, he saw Merrick in his UPS uniform, slumped over the wheel.
Bertrand immediately radioed a dispatcher to ask for medical aid, then slammed his patrol car into the truck as it started turning left. The crash caused about $4,000 in damage to the patrol car, according to the sheriff’s office.
“We consider it deadly force if we ram vehicles, but in this case, for the preservation of life, I had no option,” Bertrand said.
The truck came to a stop, and Bertrand rushed to Merrick to turn the truck off. A woman who works for the Port of Bellingham and an off-duty paramedic both ran up to help Merrick.
Because Bertrand was able to radio dispatch for aid early on, Bellingham paramedics arrived within minutes. Merrick was taken to St. Joseph hospital and given a clot-busting medication that can minimize the effects of a stroke.
He was released from the hospital within two days. Now, one month later, he feels he has made a full recovery.
Merrick, 61, has three kids. He said he’s been a UPS driver for 38 years and was about a year away from retirement. He’ll have to get cleared by UPS and the state before driving a UPS truck again.
For Bertrand, who has been with the sheriff’s office for 20 years, helping Merrick has been the highlight of his career.
“It’s so gratifying to know that I made a difference, and to see such a great man, a well-liked and respected man, pull through something like that,” Bertrand said. “It’s validating.”
Bertrand said he’s worked on narcotics cases before and had many good outcomes, but nothing has compared to this.
“I honestly got into this line of work to help people and to make a difference in people’s lives, and I do try daily to do that, whether it’s a small action, or a large action like this. You shouldn’t be in this line of work if you don’t want to help people.”
Susan Merrick, Duane’s wife, sent Bertrand a note shortly after the incident. The note thanks Bertrand for saving the love of her life — a father, grandfather and family man.
“I mean, that makes it all worthwhile for me,” Bertrand said. “To know that I’ve had an impact.”
Reach Wilson Criscione at 360-756-2803 or firstname.lastname@example.org.