Keen eye and team work saves man

The keen observations of a local resident and teamwork among emergency service agencies is credited with helping to save a Martinsville man’s life last week.

Crystal Harris, a member of the Smith River Rescue Squad, said she got the call that a vehicle was found over an embankment around 2:46 p.m. on May 30.

“A resident happened to notice a place in the grass. There were no marks in the road,” Harris said, and explained that after noticing the indentations in the grass, the resident returned to the area to search for a possible vehicle.

Spotting the overturned vehicle in what she described as a “deep creek,” the resident yelled out, hoping for a response from an occupant, she said.

With no cell phone service in the area known as Dead Man’s Curve, Harris said the resident left the scene to summon help.

Smith River Volunteer Rescue and the Woolwine Volunteer Fire Department responded, along with Station 8 (the county’s career crew), Harris said.

Rescuers found the vehicle “12 to 14-feet down an embankment, upside down. The occupant was talking to an EMT when we got there,” Harris said. The man told emergency workers he had been trapped in the wreck between five and eight hours, she said, adding the vehicle started to fill up with water.

The man had maneuvered himself through the windshield, positioning his body so his upper torso was partially in a culvert, Harris said. She estimated the culvert was about 48-inches tall, 60 to 80-feet long and ran under the width of the two-lane road.

Fire and EMS workers “looked the situation over and decided they could get through that culvert and work on him,” Harris said, adding three emergency workers, with head blocks and a backboard, disappeared into the open end of the culvert.

Treading water that was up to their knees at times, Harris said the crew worked their way to the man trapped on the other end, removed him from the wreckage and packaged him on the backboard.

Two additional crew members entered the culvert with a Stokes basket, which is outfitted with ropes and designed for use in confined spaces, Harris said.

Emergency workers put the man into the basket, and rescued him from the culvert, Harris said. Once out of the culvert, crews used the basket to pull the man another 18 to 20 feet up the embankment to the roadway.

“He was talking to the fire and rescue members the whole time. He wanted to know if the person who found him was up there” at the top of the embankment, she said.

“Once he emerged from the culvert, we told them to launch the helicopter,” Harris said, adding the man was transported to the Woolwine Volunteer Fire Department. There, he was loaded onto an Air Care helicopter and airlifted to Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem, N.C.

“This was an awesome rescue,” Harris said, noting she was impressed by how well fire and rescue crews worked together.

“They were confronted with a lot of obstacles, but they didn’t back up. They worked hard and they were diligent in their dedication to save somebody’s life,” she said, adding she conveyed her feelings to those involved.

“’We do what we’ve been trained to do,’” Harris said was the response she received.


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