“I got two strong arms and I can help.”
— Billy Swann
It’s been more than two hours now, but my hands are still shaking. And the images won’t leave my mind.
I was headed downtown just before noon Tuesday morning, bound for the Central Library Branch to return a book, and I was slowing for the traffic signal at the intersection of Jefferson Street and Pine Avenue when two vehicles collided, a horrific accident that saw one vehicle go airborne and the other skid crazily out of control.
I sat stunned for a brief moment, sure that there would be serious injuries and possible fatalities. When I composed myself, I pulled into an adjacent parking space and ran back to the vehicles to see if there was anything I could do to help. While there were plenty of gawkers, people who sat staring at the atrocity — much as I had done initially — there were several people who left their vehicles and ran to the scene.
While a gentleman in the pickup truck involved in the wreck, whose mother was a passenger in the vehicle, he told me, and was injured badly, appeared to be OK, the passenger in the other vehicle, a large SUV, which had gone airborne with the impact, rolling over a couple of times and then going end-over-end — front bumper to rear camper cover — before coming to a stop on the passenger side, was trapped in her vehicle. No doubt disoriented, she screamed for help as samaritans, one of whom turned out to be a nurse — assessed the situation.
Both doors on the driver’s side, which landed up in the air, were locked, and there was no way to get to the passenger. She was unable to unlock the doors. There was a quick discussion of liquid pouring out on the ground, posing potential danger, but when a check showed it was coolant, one of the people who gathered grabbed a hammer from his truck. Telling the passenger to shield her face, he broke the windshield, working his hammer down the length of the combination plastic/glass until others present were able to pull the windshield open enough for the driver to emerge.
Those gathered worried for her condition, given the horrendous series of twists and turns her vehicle had undergone before coming to a stop, but when she wailed, “I just got this truck!” well, I know I breathed a little easier. I told the young lady she ought to sit down and helped her over to the curb. I sat with her while we awaited EMTs and other first responders. When I saw Dougherty County EMS Director Sam Allen, members of his staff, and fire and police personnel on the scene, I told the young lady she was in good hands.
I left the professionals to attend to the young lady and went over to where the driver of the other vehicle stood. He said he was OK but that he was certain his mother’s leg was broken. By that time, members of the Albany Fire Department were using the jaws of life to remove the lady from her vehicle.
I have not yet found out the names of the persons involved in the wreck or gotten a report as to which driver might be charged in the accident, if any. (As of this writing, I’d gotten a quick response from APD spokeswoman Phyllis Whitley-Banks letting me know that a news release would be forthcoming when reports were filed.) But that was all secondary. What I was very thankful for — and, selfishly; as I thought of the incident later, I realized I was about 5 seconds and maybe 30 feet away from being in the crash — was that the injuries were not as severe as I first feared they’d be.
More than that, though, I thought of those brave souls who decided to offer aid in the immediate aftermath of the wreck, knowing that waiting for emergency personnel might mean the difference between life and death for the victims. I didn’t get any of those people’s names — the nurse, the man who swung a mean hammer, the gentleman in uniform, or any of the others — but I felt good knowing I live in a community where people are willing to look past their own safety to help strangers in need. In a time where we could use a hero or two, I saw several at the corner of Jefferson and Pine Tuesday morning.