WILLISTON, Vt. – James Pocock was living a quiet, under-the-radar life in the Vermont woods when he suddenly was showered with attention and called a hero, responsible for possibly saving another man’s life.
He’s grateful his unselfish act may transform his life for the better.
Pocock, 45, was sitting near his tent last month when he heard a crash on Interstate 89 in Williston. He rushed to the scene and used the CPR skills he learned decades ago to help revive truck driver Paul Bristol, who was stricken with a heart attack while behind the wheel.
“To me, what James did, it seems like this whole thing was something like God-sent,” said Bristol, 68, who is back home with his fiancee in Whitefield, New Hampshire, but frequently chats with Pocock. “Everything was right in line.”
Pocock, who has been homeless on and off for years, has been living in a hotel since last weekend after well-wishers heard of the incident and raised the money for the room. Efforts are now underway to find him a home.
“When the accident happened, nobody knew who I was. You’d go by and sometimes people would lock their doors, say ‘Oh, my gosh, there’s a homeless person, lock your door,’” Pocock said, sitting in a chair in his tent. “Well, since then, people are like, ‘Oh, my gosh, there’s that homeless guy. Roll down your window.’”
The Williston Fire Department says Pocock’s fast action prevented Bristol from suffering irreversible brain damage before rescue workers arrived and restarted his heart using a defibrillator. They took Bristol to a hospital, where his blocked arteries were cleared.
Pocock is a native of Canton, Ohio. He said he never finished high school, but got a GED in his early 20s. He said he lived for years as a nomad, crisscrossing the country by hitchhiking with long-haul truckers. He said he became certified as an emergency medical technician while living in California in the early 1990s.
He arrived in Vermont around 2003 and never left. He said he’s worked as a prep cook and has at times has had places to live. Whenever times get tough, though, he retreats to his home in the woods.
Pocock has always lived alone, staying warm in the winter with the help of a military-grade Arctic sleeping bag. When not working, he gets the basics by panhandling.
Around 1:30 p.m. on May 4, Bristol was headed back to New Hampshire after dropping off a load of footwear at a distribution center in Milton, Vermont. Doctors told him he suffered a massive heart attack.
Pocock heard the crash and ran to the scene. He saw Bristol lying between the seats of the truck, his face bloody after apparently hitting the steering wheel.
With the help of two unidentified passers-by, he pulled Bristol from the truck and performed CPR on him.
The next day, one of Bristol’s sons and some of his grandchildren showed up at Pocock’s camp with cooking equipment, food, a cot and a new pillow. Several weeks later, a Williston Fire Department official invited Pocock to a ceremony where he was given a medal, recognizing him for his actions.
Within hours of the news stories that followed, Lynnea Nichols of Middlebury set up a GoFundMe page. As of Wednesday, the fund had raised more than $13,000 from just under 300 people. Pocock said he’s going to donate 10 percent of the money to the Make-a-Wish Foundation.
“I never asked for this, it’s only right to pass it forward,” Pocock said.
He has met with housing advocates and expects to have a place to live in the next few days.
“This could be a life-changing event for me, where I can really improve and better myself, you know,” he said. “And all for what? Doing the right thing.”
Subscribe to the Morning Review newsletter
Get the day’s top headlines delivered to your inbox every morning by subscribing to our newsletter