Thursday, August 18, 2005

Highway 78 accidents
 • Rescue efforts intensive in heat

Staff Writers

Two late afternoon accidents Wednesday, Aug. 10, on Highway 78 just over an hour apart and within a few hundred yards of each other put emergency medical services, firefighters and law enforcement to the test.

Temperatures were in the high 90s, and the second wreck included four serious injuries with two victims ejected and two others having to be cut from their vehicles. Four ambulances, four helicopters and many more emergency personnel responded.

The first accident called in at 3:28 p.m. involved an 18-wheeler which flipped on its side and blocked both westbound lanes of traffic, according to Sgt. William Foster with the Batesville office of the Mississippi Highway Patrol.

Kenny Holbrook, Holly Springs fire chief, said the driver, Lucus L. Thompson, “told us he just lost control and got sideways.”

The truck swerved back and forth, wheels in the air on one side, then the other, before landing on its side, according to an eyewitness following the rig. Thompson sustained minor injuries. He was not transported to the hospital.

At 4:41 p.m., after the highway had just been cleared and traffic had picked up to about 35 miles an hour, the second accident occurred, Foster said.

“We had cleared the road and were letting everybody go,” Holbrook explained. “Someone stopped and told us, ‘There’s another wreck back there.’

“I thought it was a fender bender, but when I got down there and looked, I saw right quick it was no fender bender.”

The front right of an 18-wheeler caught the rear end of a pickup as the truck driver attempted to miss the pickup by switching into the passing lane, Foster said. The two vehicles became entangled and both careened off the road into a deep gully into the trees below, he said. He estimated the gully, where the two vehicles came to rest, to be about 75 feet deep or more.

Foster identified the driver of the 18-wheeler in the second accident as Bob Newman, 57, of Memphis, a driver for M&K Transportation.

Three people from New Albany were in the green ’95 Dodge pickup, Foster said. They were Carlos Melendez, 40, the driver, and Eduardo Perez and Chris Simmons.

Firefighters used the jaws of life to remove the driver of the 18-wheeler and one person in the pickup. Two victims in the pickup were ejected.

Holbrook said the two who were ejected were treated first because their injuries were worse.

“We got to them first,” he said. “Both were in the woods. They landed about 30 feet from the vehicle.”

The extrication work was extensive.

“We used a lot of specialty tools,” Holbrook said.

The truck driver’s feet were trapped under the brake pedals, and a tool was used to cut the brakes, he said.

Two wings came from The Med in Memphis, Tenn., one from North Mississippi Medical Center in Tupelo, plus the Air Evac Lifeteam from West Tennessee Healthcare in Jackson, Tenn., to carry all four victims to trauma units, according to Holbrook.

Four ambulances – two from EmergyStat and two from Alliance Healthcare – assisted as did firemen from Holly Springs, Cayce, Barton, Byhalia and Potts Camp. Marshall County Sheriff’s Department deputies were also on the scene.

“We called everybody who had tools, but we didn’t need the tools as much as we needed the manpower,” Holbrook said.

The victims had to be rescued, treated and hauled up the steep incline.

“It was labor intensive,” he said, “and everybody functioned well together.”

He thanked those who brought water to the scene.

“I can’t name everyone who helped,” Holbrook said. “They helped keep us hydrated, and that was a key issue. There wasn’t a dry stitch of clothing on any of our rescue people.”

He said his department personnel left the scene at approximately 6:30 p.m. Foster said patrolmen were busy there until 8:30 p.m. to assist with cleanup.

Westbound 78 was not reopened until 8:18 p.m. after the wreckers retrieved the vehicles from the gully. Traffic was channeled through Potts Camp on 178 during the rescue, according to Foster.

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