Joe Hettwer, also known as the 'garbageman angel', helped a woman who had fallen in her garage. (Saphara Harrell/Salem Reporter)

Joe Hettwer was running his garbage route in south Salem last month when he heard a faint noise through his ear plugs that sounded like a cat.

Hettwer was on the street in front of Ruby Connors’ house on that chilly January day preparing a note for another customer. Usually, he said Connors would come out to say hello as he’s picking up her garbage.

“I was about ready to leave and then I was like: ‘I better check,’ because her side garage door was open,” Hettwer said.

He found the 86-year-old on the concrete garage floor where she had tripped, fallen and broken her hip.

Connors’ daughter, Renee Maldonado, said her mother had been laying there for up to an hour when Hettwer found her. Her voice became hoarse from calling for help.

Hettwer went inside and got Connors a blanket to keep her warm while they waited for paramedics to arrive. She called him her “garbageman angel.”

He was quick to dismiss the notion that his effort was extraordinary. 

“I didn’t do anything anybody else wouldn’t have done. All I did was call 911,” he said.

Maldonado said it had been in the low 40s that day.

“Somebody would’ve found her eventually, but it probably would’ve been quite a while,” Maldonado said.

Hettwer, who works for Republic Services, said he has the only truck that collects both garbage and yard debris. He knows a lot of his customers because he physically gets out of the truck to dump garbage cans.

“If we get to know our customers, we remember which ones are older folks and something to kind of keep an eye out on,” he said.

When he comes to Connors’ house on Thursdays, Maldonado said he’ll roll the garbage cans back up to the house for her.

“I think people appreciate it because they can see that a similar situation of maybe they have a family loved one who would need that sort of assistance and they’re glad that people are out there doing that,” Hettwer said. “We live in a nice society.” 

Have a tip? Contact reporter Saphara Harrell at 503-549-6250, [email protected] or @daisysaphara.