We were driving home yesterday around 5:00. Although everything seemed normal, that was about to change. We were just a few miles from home, when we came upon an accident that had clearly just occurred. Dad pulled the Beast to the side of the road. Mom immediately jumped out and Dad shortly followed after yelling at Brett to find the hazard lights (we hadn’t ever used them yet in the Beast). Brett and I moved to their seats in front (Mom has us do that if the kids are in the car so we can keep an eye on things). We were so close we were able to see everything that was happening.
When Mom got out of the car she first ran to the left side of the highway where there was a silver SUV type vehicle. She found Natalie (the driver), who had a broken wrist, cuts, and bruises, but no major injuries that she noticed at the scene. We watched Mom and another woman help Natalie out of the car. They walked Natalie away from the car and helped her sit down on the grass. Mom spent a few minutes with Natalie making sure there was nothing serious and then ran back across the road.
While Mom ran left, Dad ran over to the ditch on the right side of the highway where a truck with a trailer had gone off the road. He saw there was fire around the fuel pipe. He told me he looked and saw that men were pulling out the people, so he ran to the closest commercial vehicle and asked for a fire extinguisher, because he knew they carried them. Other people were bringing fire extinguishers and Dad said he eventually emptied six or seven of them into the fire. He directed most of them at the fuel tank. However, this did very little but delay the fire. He told me later that his best guess is that the fuel tank probably had a hole in it and as the fuel expanded with the heat, more squirted out all over the car burning through everything.
While Dad was trying to put out the fire, other men were trying to remove the people from the burning vehicle. The first person they got out was a nine year old boy named Drew. Mom saw a man removing Drew which she later told us is why she ran back across the road. His actual name is Andrew, but he just told Mom his name was Drew. When Mom got to him, he appeared to have a broken leg, so she helped support it as he was set down on the ground. A few minutes later, the vehicle fire had grown so much that Mom wanted to move Drew further away from the vehicle. She and the man carried him over and another lady gave him her jacket which they placed under Drew. Drew remembered his Dad’s phone number, so Brett then left our car to bring mom her phone. (Mom couldn’t reach the parents).
We later found out that Drew was only able to be removed from the vehicle after one of the men was able to cut the seat belt off of him. Praise God for pocket knives, because if we had to go along the road asking for knives, Drew might still have been with his grandpa.
While Drew was being removed, someone (I believe it was Doug) went around to the other side of the burning vehicle (the fire was still small at that point) and opened the passenger door. When he opened the door, he discovered the grandmother as she slid out of the car. Another man helped carry her away from the vehicle.
At this point, everyone did all they could to help the grandfather. We later found out his name was Dennis.
There were people inside the burning vehicle trying to get him out, but he was pinned (I am not sure if his leg was pinned, or what is was, but I know he was stuck) from the impact of the collision. Everybody kept trying and trying until the fire was too intense and it was too late. We watched Dad who was so close to the fuel tank working as hard as possible to put out the fire. He told me that once the back window blew out from the heat of the fire was when he finally stepped back.
When nobody could stay in the vehicle trying to remove him any longer, they all backed up. I think all the people trying to help were in disbelief. I didn’t realize at this point that they hadn’t gotten him out. I still thought everyone was saved and they were just keeping the fire from spreading.
Soon after, the emergency vehicles started arriving. When the police arrived some went down to the next U-turn, and some just pulled up on the other side of the highway. An ambulance pulled up on the far side and evacuated Sandra. She was the first to leave. Mom didn’t help her, so I am not sure about what injuries she sustained, but they evacuated her very quickly.
Dad came back to the Beast after that because he had to back up the Beast. They needed to make space for the medivac helicopter to land on the highway. The helicopter airlifted Drew to Kosair. Mom said he had a probable broken ankle and leg, but was coherent although he appeared to be going into shock between the time she first carried him to a safe distance and the EMT workers started working on him.
When Dad came back was when we found out that they hadn’t been able to get Dennis out. We were all really quiet. It was very difficult to comprehend that somebody had just died. We had helped at accidents before, but everybody had always been alive. I don’t think any of us knew what to do.
I would like all the who responded to the crash to know that you did not quit too early on Dennis. We watched you work until the fire was really big. We could see all the black smoke as the tires burned and hear all the popping as the glass exploded. You all did everything you could.
I also want to say, that I did not know Dennis, but I believe everyone did things the way he would have wanted them done. First we saved his grandson. Then we saved his wife. Then we did our best for him. I know that’s the what my Dad would have wanted.
I would like to take this time to thank everyone who was there. Though we lost one, we saved two. Neither Drew (who had to be cut out of his seatbelt) or Sandra could have gotten out of the car by themselves in time. Everyone who helped in any small way is a hero.
I don’t know many names but I would like to thank the man with the knife, who cut Drew out. I often carry a pocket knife, but it is not used for heroic purposes. It is generally for hay bales, boxes, and other work – not saving people’s lives.
The man who was with Sandra, Dad said you were amazing. He said you talked to her the entire time and told her over and over that you wouldn’t leave her and help was on the way.
Doug, you got Sandra out, and kept trying to save Dennis.
The lady in the blue shirt, mom said you were amazing with Drew. And she said your boyfriend worked really hard to try to save Dennis too.
And everybody else who stopped and helped or just supplied fire extinguishers, thank you too.
I would also like to point out that though there were many people who helped, there were people who just drove right on by. There were people standing in the middle of the street telling people to stop, and people just drove around. That amazes me, that there was a car on fire on the side of the road, and you were not able to take some time to help. When mom was trying to cross the road to get to Drew, she had a hard time getting a car to stop so she could cross in front of it.
My mom told me later that if you are ever in a situation where people need help, you help. Because you have to live with yourself after, and if that was a crash where just a few more people were needed to save Dennis, you do not want to live with yourself if you just pass by.
Yesterday was devastating for Natalie and Dennis’s family. Our family is praying for you.