Thursday, August 18, 2005

Fielder’s Choice
By Barry Burleson

Prepared

Wife Pam called me on her cell phone about mid-afternoon on Wednesday, Aug. 10. I noticed quickly it wasn’t her typical tone of voice. She was shaky.

That’s because she had just witnessed an 18-wheeler flip sideways onto Highway 78 directly in front of her.

That’s enough to make anyone a bit nervous. Our three children were even shakier, particularly 3-year-old Erin.

Pam had been to Tupelo to meet one of my sisters. Emma, Andy and Erin had spent a few days in Hamilton, Ala., with my family just prior to the start of school.

The truck had just passed them, near the Lake Center exit, when the accident happened. Pam hit her brakes and watched and then quickly telephoned 911.

After waiting on them to reach the office and making sure they were OK, I headed out 178 with camera in hand. I arrived in plenty of time to take a few photos, on highway level and from the adjacent bank, of the 18-wheeler on its side. Traffic was able to travel around the accident at the time by slowly going off the pavement to the right side. The driver was walking around, OK.

Temperatures had to be near 100 degrees. I stayed out there about 10 minutes and was soaked in sweat.

I returned to the office to download my digital photos and then left that day a little before 5 p.m. Not long after getting home, co-worker Sue Watson called and said Louise Pruitt, who works part-time here at the newspaper office, had called and there was another accident on Highway 78 in the vicinity of the previous one and helicopters had been dispatched to the scene.

Needless to say, I was “on the road” again.

I swung by the office to get my camera, and this time went east on 78, knowing the accident was in the westbound lanes.

Getting near, I knew it was a bad one. And it was just a few hundred yards from the other one. Two helicopters were already on the scene, along with four ambulances. I could not see any of the vehicles involved.

I parked as much out of the way as I could, ran across the medium and the westbound lanes and looked down into the deep ravine. There was an 18-wheeler and what looked to be a pickup truck in the edge of the woods, a short distance apart.

The cab of the truck and the pickup were mangled, to say the least. It was an accident scene you never want to see.

Rescue personnel were everywhere. They were working as a unit and working extremely hard to care for the seriously wounded – one in the 18-wheeler and three in the pickup.

Later, those two helicopters left with a patient each, and two more flew in. They came from Memphis, Tenn., Tupelo and Jackson, Tenn.

Most of the rescue personnel on hand knew me. A couple of others questioned me. That’s OK. They were doing their jobs, too, and doing them well.

That’s the purpose of this week’s column – to emphasize how well trained and well prepared these highway patrolmen, firemen, ambulance workers, sheriff’s deputies and other rescue personnel are in times of tragedy.

They were using their specialty tools to free victims; carrying victims up a steep embankment, giving treatment and constant attention to the victims, and much more – all with sweat rolling down their brows and drenching their clothing.

“We’re always prepared,” said Holly Springs Fire Chief Kenny Holbrook, who praised everyone for working together and doing a great job. “The capabilities are there to handle it.”

Thank goodness for our emergency responders. The teamwork was impressive.


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