JERSEY SHORE -- One by one Ethan Sojka took wooden blocks out of a plastic box at Land of Oz Learning Center and started arranging them in a line. With each block he set on the ground, he would walk along them, one foot in front of the other, as though balancing on a tightrope.
Ethan is a 3-year-old boy dubbed with the title “Our Little Hero” at the Forked River learning center. Just two weeks ago, Ethan helped save the life of his neighbor.
While in his playroom in his Bayville home the morning of Jan. 3, Ethan heard someone calling for help. He told his father Jack Sojka, who couldn’t hear the cry from anywhere but the playroom.
Jack Sojka ran outside where he found that his 67-year-old neighbor fell 20 feet from a ladder.
“He couldn’t move. Any longer, he could’ve died,” Jack Sojka said.
Police and emergency services arrived at the scene. Dale Cottrell was airlifted to Jersey Shore Medical Center for treatment of severe injuries that were sustained in the fall.
“The guy was freezing. He must have been on the ground for half an hour. It was so cold. Hypothermia was probably setting in already,” Pat Sperber of the Bayville First Aid Squad said. “He’s lucky to be alive. He took a really, really bad fall. Luckily (Ethan) heard somebody yelling.”
Cottrell was on the ladder cutting the top piece of a tree when it began to sway, causing him to lose his balance, son Chris Cottrell said.
Chris Cottrell was at work at the time and received a phone call advising him to go home. He arrived approximately half an hour later.
There was happiness in his voice as Chris Cottrell said he was “thankful” that Ethan heard his father’s cry for help.
“I guess he spends a lot of time in that picture window. He just happened to be there at the right time and heard him. The right place at the right time,” Chris Cottrell said.
Dale Cottrell suffered a “laundry list” of injuries, Chris Cottrell said, including a dislocated elbow, two fractured ribs and nine different fractures in his back.
“He’s doing a lot better now,” he said.
After spending a week in the hospital, Dale Cottrell is now at a rehabilitation facility, where he’ll be for two weeks.
Had Dale Cottrell fallen slightly to the left or right, he would have struck a tree stump or a fence post, Chris Cottrell said.
“He didn’t hit his head. His legs are working fine. He’s up and walking…He really got lucky,” he said. “We’re very happy that Ethan heard him. That was smart thinking on his part.”
Jack Sojka was surprised yet proud that Ethan sought the help of an adult, but not quite sure how he knew to do so.
“It’s just something he did. We never told him what to do in that type of situation,” he said. “The cops told me he did a good job.”
Ethan continued to run circles in the playroom in Land of Oz and gather wooden blocks, every now and then stopping to share a piece of his story.
Ethan said he wasn’t scared by what happened and was “happy” to see his neighbor get help.
“He’s always been very kind and concerned with all his friends,” said Pamela DePasquale, Director of the Land of Oz, as Ethan played. She described Ethan as “aware” and “gentle.”
“It didn’t surprise us at all,” she said.
The school does teach its young students to call 911 when there’s trouble, she said.
“The next best thing is going to his father,” she said.
But even with those school-taught lessons, it’s “uncommon” for a child Ethan’s age to act in such a situation, she said. Most would continue playing.
A photo of Ethan is pinned to the bulletin board at Land of Oz. With a grand smile, Ethan is holding a certificate that says, “Awesome!”
“He saved a man’s life. It’s a pretty big deal. He did a good job,” DePasquale said.