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As Bruce Jones of Lincoln lay in agony from a heart attack, his wife listened to the approach of sirens, and then they stopped getting closer.

Julia sees things more calmly now that her husband is safe at home recovering from his near-death experience on the MoPac East Trail east of Walton.

But last Thursday, her 53-year-old husband almost died because the ambulance couldn't drive on the trail to get to them.

Emergency responders could not unlock a knee-high metal post that keeps unauthorized vehicles off the trail.

"We have keys to the locks on the MoPac. However, those locks were changed over the years and we do not have any new keys," said John Porter, chief of the Southeast Rural Fire Department.

Bruce experienced "excruciating" chest pains while they waited for help, Julia said.

"It was just a really scary thing. It wouldn't have been so bad if an ambulance would have gotten there quicker. I honestly thought Bruce was going to die in my arms," she said.

Bruce became nauseous on the way back from an evening bike ride. Julia said they hadn't cycled much this year but they usually ride 20 to 24 miles when they do. After snacking on an energy bar, Bruce got back on his bike but told his wife he couldn't go any farther. Julia called their son, Carson, and then 911.

Julia said she couldn't tell their son exactly where they were on the trail because she didn't know the cross streets. Carson drove his pickup out and finally located his parents but couldn't get to them with his vehicle because of the locked post.

Porter said rescuers arrived in less than 22 minutes after the 911 call, administered aid to Bruce, and transmitted his vital signs to doctors at Saint Elizabeth Regional Medical Center.

"They got there fairly fast," Julia said of the emergency responders. "They couldn't find us ... but you could hear the sirens."

Emergency responders used a four-wheel drive grass rig to get to Bruce and then transport him through a newly-planted field after he had been stabilized by paramedics.

Because of all the firefighting equipment in the rig's bed, there was no room for her husband, so they set him up in the cab, she said. The rig got stuck in the muddy field but powered through to a nearby road.

Bruce was taken to the hospital where he was treated for a blocked artery. He'd had a stent placed in the artery seven years ago.

"He had 100 percent blockage to the main pipeline to his heart," Julia said.

She doesn't blame the emergency responders because they did all they could to rescue her husband. But the near-tragedy has taught them a valuable lesson -- one they want to share with other trail users.

"People should be aware of the trail (mile markers and cross streets) and emergency crews should understand the trail system because it's heavily populated. It's where people are," Julia said.

Mile markers are posted along the 25-mile-long MoPac East Trail, which runs from just south of 84th and O streets in Lincoln to the unincorporated village of Wabash in Cass County. Metal posts are located at trail entrances.

Glenn Johnson, general manager of the Lower Platte South Natural Resources District, said he had not heard about Bruce's heart attack.

Every rural rescue squad, police and fire department close to the trail has been supplied with keys, Johnson said.

"We're going to verify that everyone does have the right key," he said.

Johnson said he is not aware that any of the locks on the trail had been changed over the years. He said one key fits all of the locks.

Johnson said emergency responders could have used bolt cutters to cut the lock.

Porter said they did have bolt cutters on the grass rig but not on ambulances. He said when the rig arrived they already had found an alternate route to the couple, so they decided not to cut the lock on the post.

Porter said he bought some bolt cutters and now they will be standard equipment on all ambulances.

Johnson said there have been other emergencies on the MoPac and the Oak Creek Trail near Valparaiso.

"Obviously, any trail anywhere is going to have that kind of emergency (heart attack) when people are walking or exercising," Johnson said.

NRD staff will contact emergency responder groups and others soon to make sure everyone has the right key, he said.

Porter welcomed the news and said the department also is looking into buying a special basket that can be used on grass rigs to carry patients.

Reach Algis J. Laukaitis at 402-473-7243 or alaukaitis@journalstar.com.

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