BREESE - A fifth-grade farm boy stopped a bull from attacking his father Wednesday night, but injuries from the bull's charges led to the death of the 39-year-old dairy farmer.|
The bull charged Matt Hilmes early Wednesday evening on the family farm east of Breese. His son, 11-year-old Brandon Hilmes, was on a tractor nearby and saw it happen.
"It hit him twice," Brandon said. "It walked a little bit, then hit him again."
Brandon drove the tractor toward his father and the bull, then used the scoop of the tractor to fend off the animal.
"I jabbed at it," he said. "Then it went away."
The boy -- who was honored last year for saving the life of his grandfather -- put his father in the scoop of the tractor and brought him to the farmhouse, where Brandon got his mother, Pam Hilmes.
"He was sitting on the tractor, saying he couldn't breathe, he couldn't breathe," Pam Hilmes said Thursday morning as she sat at her kitchen table, surrounded by some of her sons and other loved ones. Matt and Pam Hilmes have five sons, ages 11, 9, 8, 7 and 3.
"He just cared about his kids -- every day," Pam Hilmes said.
Word of the accident spread fast through Breese, a rural community with a population of about 4,100, where dairy farming is so prevalent the annual high school football game between cross-town rivals Breese Central and Breese Mater Dei is called the Milk Bowl. The weekly Breese Journal on Wednesday carried a memorial for a 33-year-old woman who died 10 years and one day earlier after being trampled by a steer on her family's farm between St. Rose and Highland.
Chief Deputy Mark Etter of the Clinton County Sheriff's Department, who grew up on a dairy farm, called Brandon's actions amazing.
"There's no question about it," Etter said. "That's definitely heroic."
Brandon's heroism came as no surprise to Jeff Strieker, principal at District 12 elementary schools in Breese and Beckemeyer.
"As absolutely ironic as it can be, a year ago today (Thursday), the family took a day off school to be on a TV station's 'Do The Right Thing' program," Strieker said. "A little over a year ago, one of those large, round bales of hay had fallen on his grandfather. Over all the noise and commotion of the tractor, Brandon heard his grandfather screaming for him."
The television program credited Brandon for removing the 800-pound hay bale with help from his father.
"He basically went and got the bale off him, and saved his life," Strieker said.
Pam Hilmes is a cook at District 12's school in Beckemeyer. Strieker said Matt Hilmes sometimes came to the school to have lunch with his wife and sons.
"They're a real big part of us here," Strieker said. He said the school previously has had to deal with the deaths of students' parents and even students, "but this has been very impactful here."
Strieker added, "I just can't imagine what that young man's going through, to have to deal with something like that."
The Hilmes dairy and grain farm had two bulls. The bull that charged Matt Hilmes and the other one were loaded onto a cattle trailer Thursday morning. Pam Hilmes said they were being taken away.
She said the bull that charged her husband was "that really big bull" on the trailer. "His back is about that high," she said, holding a hand well above the kitchen table.
"It just snapped," she said.
Added Brandon: "It's just a mean bull."
An ambulance crew rushed Matt Hilmes to St. Joseph's Hospital in Breese, where he was loaded onto a medical helicopter for transfer to a St. Louis hospital. He died en route of chest injuries.
The farm has been owned for many years by Matt Hilmes' father, who still works on the farm but no longer resides there. Matt Hilmes had two brothers and five sisters.
"This is where they grew up," Pam Hilmes said.
Published in Belleville News-Democrat on Jan. 20, 2006