Kiski Twp. teen rescues stricken man on newspaper route for second time
Having worked almost 16 years on the same North Apollo carrier route for the Valley News Dispatch, Joe Stango knows when something isn't right in the neighborhood.
For Stango, 18, such an inclination arose on May 29 when the Kiski Township resident spotted a stack of newspapers collecting on 81-year-old Robert Betts' Isabella Avenue front porch.
“I saw two or three papers sitting there, which is strange because he always gets his paper in the morning,” Stango said. “That's how I knew something probably happened again.”
The last time Betts' morning newspapers piled up was in 2009 when he had fallen in his home and went two days without food, water or medicine.
It was Stango who found him then, lying on his kitchen floor, and called the paramedics.
Almost four years later, the recent Apollo-Ridge High School graduate said he feared a similar situation or worse when he retrieved Betts' neighbors and approached the retired gravedigger's home.
There was no answer at the front door — it was locked — but Stango could hear that the television was on inside.
After breaking through a locked screen door in the rear of the house, the newspaper carrier found Betts down again. This time, he was in the living room.
Dehydrated and delusional, Betts laid motionless, mumbling to himself. Stango called 911 and tried to calm down Betts before the paramedics arrived.
Again, the 81-year-old had gone at least two days without food, water or medicine.
He was admitted to Allegheny Valley Hospital in Harrison where he was treated for severe dehydration, among other things. He didn't suffer any broken bones, according to his longtime neighbor and caregiver, Sandra Gregg.
Since recovering from the fall, Betts has moved into West Haven Nursing Home in Washington Township.
Gregg, who has known Betts for more than 40 years and regularly visits him, said his quality of life since moving into the nursing home has “improved exponentially.”
“I think the whole thing was kind of a blessing in disguise,” she said. “It's just so fortunate that Joe did what he did. It could have turned out very badly if he wasn't there. Most teenagers would have just tossed the paper and rode away without even thinking about it.
“What he did was very rare and very impressive.”
A regional circulation manager of Trib Total Media, parent company of the VND, has since expressed the company's intention of nominating Stango for the Inter-State Circulation Managers' Association V.T. Curtis Award. The citation is awarded to carriers who have “performed an outstanding service to their fellow man while carrying out the duties of their newspaper route,” according to the I-SCMA website.
“It feels good, but it's completely unnecessary,” Stango said regarding the recognition. “I felt obligated to do what I did. I wouldn't say I went above and beyond at all. I like doing this. I've been doing it since I was 2 years old.”
Now a high school graduate, Stango at an early age used to shadow his older brother as he worked the same route. His brother officially handed the responsibilities over to Joe six years ago.
Gregg said she views Stango's commitment to the carrier route and the people on it as an inspiration.
“It's great to know that there are still teenagers today who have more going on in their lives than just sports and video games,” she said. “Joe really cares about this neighborhood and its people. He saved (Betts') life.”
Stango will attend Indiana University of Pennsylvania this fall to study criminology. The longtime carrier said he plans to participate in the Army's Reserve Officers' Training Corps program through the university.
Braden Ashe is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 724-226-4673.