Once a month at an Independence City Council meeting, a city employee receives an employee of the month award, as nominated by peers or supervisors.
Generally, it’s a standard, short, goodwill affair. But when Luke Crowder, a utility meter reader with the city for nearly five years, received his plaque and recognition this month, it was a bit different.
Joining him for a picture was 92-year-old Alice Epperson, and her most recent birthday came after the pair encountered each other one early August afternoon, though Epperson might have been the most grateful a citizen has been to encounter a utility meter reader.
“He’s very special, of course, very special to me,” says Epperson, who goes by her middle name Lorene.
Crowder, sensing some distress in a faint voice while in the midst of a normal meter-reading jaunt in western Independence, followed the sound until he found Epperson on the ground in her backyard. She had fallen and couldn’t get up because, as learned later, she’d broken a hip.
A couple of phone calls, an ambulance ride and surgery and recovery later, Epperson will be able to enjoy a Thanksgiving meal after she believes Crowder saved her life.
“I don’t know how long I would’ve been out there in the yard,” Epperson said. “My house is in sort of a secluded area; there’s not many people around. Sometimes my neighbor is outside, but that time, he wasn’t.”
Crowder had already read the meters at Epperson’s house and was, by his estimation, two blocks away, when he heard a woman yelling, “Paul!”
Shortly after Crowder had left her house, Epperson had gone outside to clean her birdbath. She reached to hang up the brush but missed the target and lost her balance. When she tried to get up, her leg would not cooperate.
On a normal day, Crowder says, he checks utility meters at 250 to 300 homes, usually needing no more than a half minute at a place. Occasionally, some small talk happens, or he accepts a refreshing drink from a citizen, but most often it’s a quick visit. As such, he was several houses away from Epperson when – surprisingly, he says – he first heard her voice.
“It sounded like there was a little distress in the voice,” he said, “but I took it as she was looking for someone named Paul and was worried about him.”
Then the sound changed to “Help!” and Crowder started following her voice, passing a couple of people who apparently didn’t hear her or didn’t grasp the urgency of the situation. After finding Epperson on the ground in her yard, Crowder quickly realized she’d broken a bone, but Epperson insisted that his first call be to her son Wes.
“I was pretty sure about it, because she was laying in the sun, and I asked if she was able to scoot, she tried a little and said no, so I knew there was a fracture,” Crowder said.
Wes Epperson lives fairly close to his mother but didn’t recognize the number calling him and didn’t answer at first. Crowder then found Epperson’s neighbor across the street – the aforementioned Paul – who got into her house and called Wes, who in turn called 911 and then arrived shortly before the first responders.
“I don’t think it was that long, but I was not able to move,” Epperson said. “It was maybe not a half hour – he had just read the meter at my house – but I was never so glad to see anyone in all my life as I was to see Luke.”
“He would not leave me until he knew I was OK. I went in the ambulance, and he went on his way.”
The men were able to get Epperson into some shade and onto a pillow before first responders arrived. The ambulance took her to North Kansas City Hospital, as Centerpoint Medical Center apparently was too full due to COVID-19 patients.
Crowder said he managed to finish his route – “I just hot-footed it rest of the way,” he said – and received a call later from Epperson’s daughter-in-law with the update. Other than the hip, her health was good, which allowed for her to recover enough that she was back home when Crowder came the next month to get a meter reading. Hearing she was home, he stopped in to say hello.
Epperson says her son had warned her about the possibility of a fall, and Crowder said the son told his mother she should get a medical alert pendant. But she’s home now and able to move around, she exercises a couple times a week and she uses a cane when she goes outside. She was able to attend the City Council meeting to help congratulate Crowder, and last Friday, Wes took her to Costco for the first time since the fall.
“Oh, by all means, I’m thankful for him and his family,” she said of seeing him for the award. “It was just so neat to see him. He had said his wife was going to have a baby in three weeks.” (The Crowders now have three young children).
“I couldn’t thank the Lord enough for him that day. He’s one of these good fellas you need to know about.”
Wes Epperson echoes that appreciation.
“He was at the right place at the right time,” the son said. “He could’ve just kept going and reading his meters. Everybody involved that day was great – the Fire Department, paramedics, the surgeon, the whole thing the way it was handled. At her age, she’s been very fortunate.”
Crowder also is thankful he was in a place to help.
“If I was a day later reading meters there,” he said, “I’d hate to think what would’ve happened.”