Joseph Banks remembers driving on Interstate 20 early Saturday and everything being fine. The next thing he remembers is his Ford F-350 flying across the grass, hitting the guardrail “and just eating it up.”
Within three seconds, his truck burst into flames.
He was trapped between his seat and the dashboard, which had been crushed by the concrete “weigh station” sign the truck hit near mile marker 187.
“The fire was right outside the driver’s side window,” Banks said. “Within seconds, it was up through the floorboards. My legs were getting really warm.”
Banks remembers cars stopping, but the people stayed back. He understood why – his truck was on fire.
The seat belt had him pinned and he screamed for a knife. No one had one.
Then he heard sirens.
“They were so quick,” he said. “The response time was crazy fast.”
The Dallas, Ga., resident saw Georgia State Trooper 1st Class Matthew MacDonald and two Columbia County sheriff’s deputies, Bobby Atma and Wes Ward, rush to him.
“With complete disregard for their own safety,” Banks said. “All they were worried about was getting me out.”
MacDonald had a knife and cut Banks’ seat belt off.
“I immediately felt better,” he said.
One of the officers stood on something – Banks is not sure what – and got enough leverage to pull Banks through the window. Meanwhile, Columbia County firefighters were using hand-held fire extinguishers to keep the flames at bay.
Once out, the three men pulled him to safety. He did not bother to look back at his demolished truck.
“Every muscle in my body just collapsed,” he said. “I told them, ‘You will have to get me.’ They did.”
Banks had been awake for close to 24 hours before his accident. His job as a electrical superintendent keeps him on the road. He said he always pulls over when he feels like he is too tired.
“I don’t know what happened,” he said. “I’d like to say my habits will change, but there is no way of knowing. It’s my job.”
Banks was at Medical College of Georgia Hospital’s intensive care unit until Sunday afternoon and said he has another surgery scheduled for Monday. He has been told the second-degree burns on his legs are manageable but that his broken pelvis will take about three months to heal.
Banks has asked for information about the officers who helped save his life so he can thank them.
“I feel lucky,” he said. “It could have been so much worse. We should thank these people every day.”