Grandfather Dies Protecting Grandson, 13, as Car Falls 150 Feet Off Cliff: 'He Was a Hero'
Jerry Greenough, 63, wrapped Austyn Kerley, 13, in his arms like a "cocoon" to protect the boy as his Jeep tumbled down the side of a New Mexico mountain
Gerard “Jerry” Greenough, 63, didn’t think of his own safety on Sept. 2 as he and his 13-year-old grandson, Austyn Kerley, tumbled in a Jeep 150 feet off a cliff in Red River, New Mexico.
Instead, he wrapped his arms around his grandson and told the boy gently, “Austyn, you’re gonna be okay and papa loves you.” Those were Greenough’s last words, his daughter, Amanda Kerley, tells PEOPLE.
The grandfather of three died after his red Jeep crashed to the ground during a “boys’ trip” to New Mexico. Greenough had driven on the trail several times but, that morning, his Jeep became stuck and rocks under the vehicle began to slide, sending the car down the mountain.
“The trail was not unfamiliar to him. It was a very simple trail, actually,” Amanda says. “As the Jeep began to tip over, my daddy grabbed Austyn and cocooned him in his arms, protecting his head. Protecting him as much as he possibly could from any bodily harm. He was a hero. He didn’t have to wrap my son, but he did.”
Austyn’s father, Tony, and his twin brother, Tyler, had successfully driven across the trail just moments before the crash. They jumped into action after the incident, with Tyler and Tony pulling Austyn up the mountain while a passerby performed CPR on Greenough for about 20 minutes, Amanda says.
Greenough was pronounced dead at the scene. Amanda, who was in the family’s Edmond, Oklahoma, home at the time of the incident, says she was “devastated” when Tony, her husband, called and told her what happened.
“I had to tell my mom that my dad passed away in the accident and nothing prepares you for that,” Amanda tells PEOPLE through tears. “I was a daddy’s girl. It was hard to know that Tyler had to help rescue his brother and be there with my dad when he passed away. It’s a lot.”
Officials with the Tao County Sheriff’s Office did not immediately respond to a request for comment from PEOPLE.
Austyn was airlifted to University of New Mexico Hospital in Albuquerque with several injuries including major blood loss, a broken clavicle, broken ribs, spinal injuries, a ruptured spleen and more, Amanda says. She and her mother flew to Albuquerque to be with her son in the hospital, but Amanda says nothing could have prepared her for what she saw.
“He was unstable. He was far from okay when I got there,” she tells PEOPLE. “He did not look like my little boy when I walked into the room. He was intubated, sedated in a hospital bed. There’s nothing that prepares you for that.”
Austyn remained in the hospital for more than two weeks, spending at least six days in the intensive care unit.
He returned home to Oklahoma last week. Now, as she mourns her father’s death, Amanda says she knows she would have lost her son if it weren’t for Greenough’s selfless act.
“My daddy saved my son. I know beyond a shadow of a doubt, if my dad had not sacrificed his own life to hold on to [Austyn] and protect him all the way down the mountain, my son wouldn’t be here either,” the mom of three tells PEOPLE.
Austyn has been recovering more quickly than doctors expected, which Amanda says she’s grateful for. But, still grieving, she says it has been difficult living a life without her father.
“He was an amazing father. He was an amazing grandfather,” she says. “He was always there, every sporting event, every ballet recital. He was such a huge part of our lives and him leaving has left a huge hole. He was the kind of dad you wanted to have. He would do whatever he took to protect his family.”