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Hammond man thankful for neighborly rescue

On Dec. 15 Royce Fritz looks down at his bandaged legs, a reminder of the night he thought he'd lose his life.

When Royce Fritz, 67, of Hammond, was taking his garbage to the curb around 10 p.m. Dec. 2, he fell on a patch of ice. In excruciating pain and unable to move, Fritz thought he would freeze to death.

Fritz almost fell twice while walking his garbage to the end of the driveway. The first time he caught himself before falling. The second time he slipped, he was not as lucky. Fritz fell in such a way that he ripped the tendons from the kneecaps on both legs.

"Needless to say there was a lot of pain and screaming and crying," Fritz said.

After gaining his composer, Fritz said he started hollering for help. His wife, Cindy, was already asleep at the far end of their house; Royce knew she wouldn't hear his calls for help.

As he lay in his driveway in pain wearing only a jacket, hat, shoes and shorts, Fritz said he knew he was going to have to get warmer if he was going to survive the below freezing temperatures. 

Unable to use his legs, Royce dragged himself 35 feet up the driveway, using only his arms.

By the time he made it to his doorsteps, he said he had no strength to go on.

"I was just physically shot, I couldn't have moved myself another inch," Royce said.

Once he realized he had no strength left, Royce began hollering for help again. He said he wasn't close enough or strong enough to grab anything to throw at the house or windows. Even if he could have found a rock, "Cindy probably wouldn't have heard it anyways," he said.

Royce said at one point he frantically waved when a car drove down the street in front of his house. "Unless (the driver) was looking right at me, he would have never seen me waving," Royce said.

Royce said as he laid in pain in the quiet of the night, he suddenly heard footsteps coming in his direction.

Royce continued to holler for help until a neighbor, off in the distance, found Royce in front of his house.

Royce said Jim Campbell was just coming home from work and was taking his own garbage out when he heard his screams for help.

Campbell said initially he thought somebody was just calling their dog.

He immediately called 911 and gave Royce his shirt. Eventually, Campbell was able to wake Cindy and inform her of what happened.

Cindy said she was "in shock" and that she "never ever would have expected anything like this." 

Royce doesn't consider himself a religious person, but says somebody was watching over him that Thursday night.

Cindy agrees, "It was God's intervention, I know that."

Words not enough

Royce and Cindy both became very emotional when thinking about what Campbell did. 

Cindy said she "cannot express enough gratitude" to Campbell for saving her husband's life.

"If he hadn't had the forethought to follow that sound (of Royce's screams)," Cindy said she believes Royce would have frozen to death.

Cindy and Royce say they still don't know what to say or do to thank Campbell for saving Royce's life.

"I've been thinking about that for almost two weeks ... thank you isn't enough," Royce said.

Cindy said, "There are not words to express how we feel about what Jim did."

Campbell visited Royce on Christmas Eve and said the whole situation is "kind of unbelievable to me."


Royce estimated that from the time he fell to the time he got in the ambulance, an hour had elapsed.

Royce said he was initially sent to Baldwin Medical for x-rays but was transferred, by ambulance, to Regions for MRIs.

After five hours of surgery and 63 wire staples in his two knees, to trim and reattach his tendons, Royce is now recovering at the American Heritage Care Center in Hammond.

Royce's shortened tendons will prohibit him from bending his knees like he used to.

Royce still has months of recovery ahead and his surgeon believes that once healed, Royce will be about 80 percent of what he was before.

Before leaving the care center and returning home, the Fritz's house will need a number of modifications to make it more accessible.

Royce said his Dec. 2 fall is "going to make an indent on the rest of my life."

"This place here (the care center) is wonderful," But Royce said he is looking forward to getting home and trying to walk again in 2011.

Gretta Stark

Gretta Stark has been a reporter for the River Falls Journal since July of 2013. She previously worked as a reporter for the New Richmond News from June 2012 to July 2013. She holds a BA in Print and Electronic Media from Wartburg College.

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