One week ago, I stood on the side of Hardy-McManus Road watching emergency workers rescue Haley Van Pelt from her car.
It's not the sort of thing I do much anymore. But summer vacations left us short staffed, so there I was with a camera and a notepad.
There was a time, more than 20 years ago, when reporting on wrecks (and robberies, and shootings, and other similar mayhem) was a big part of my daily life. Adrenaline can be addictive, and police reporters get constant doses of it.
Covering those sorts of things all the time inevitably makes them become a matter of routine, reported with dry detail. But getting out of the routine gave me a new perspective once I returned to the scene.
Perhaps that perspective was enhanced by the amount of time available for reflection because it took so long to get Haley free. You've heard of a car being wrapped around a tree? Hers was - literally.
The driver's side door of the 17-year-old's car struck a big pine tree, caving in the passenger compartment to the width of one seat, with her in it. She was knocked unconscious, and her legs were trapped under the dash.
To make matters worse, the direction of the impact didn't set off the air bag; during the entire rescue operation, the explosive device was pointed at her injured head, and rescuers had to be careful not to set it off.
Why did it take two hours to free Haley? They could have gotten her out in two minutes - but she wouldn't have lived to take the helicopter ride to the Medical College of Georgia Hospital.
Instead, Martinez Columbia Fire-Rescue workers and Gold Cross EMTs, along with personnel from Air Med, had to use rescue equipment with a tremendously light touch - like trying to handle an egg with a bulldozer without cracking it.
At one point, a winch was hooked to the front of the car, a tow truck to the back of the same side, and chains on the other side as the rescuers tried to pull the car apart and open up enough space to get Haley free.
This took a while. Other than talking to Columbia County deputies and others who also were at the scene, and taking photos of all of them, I spent some of the time praying not just for that young, injured girl, but for all those emergency workers putting heart, soul and sweat into that effort. At one time I counted as many as 18 of them swarming on and around that car, all to save the life of one high school student.
The reports from MCG continue to come without inflection of optimism or pessimism: Haley's condition is still critical, with significant head and other injuries. But she's survived this long thanks to dedicated, awe-inspiring work of people for whom such rescues never become a matter of routine.
God bless them all.
Fifty, and counting
Monday was a pretty astonishing milestone: Harley Drew celebrated 50 years in the radio business.
Jeff Annis, owner of Advance Services for Pest Control, really outdid himself by throwing a surprise party at Stonecrest Steak House. Harley thought he was just meeting some friends for lunch, and instead found a room full of friends, fellow employees and former cohorts - including me.
He and I worked for the same radio station back in my wreck-chasing days, and he's always represented the absolute best in radio. Monday's luncheon turned part roast, part trip down memory lane, and Harley seemed genuinely touched.
For my part, I also thanked him for being one of the rare people who commutes into Columbia County to work everyday.
More to come
Speaking of anniversaries, I see this coming Sunday is the seventh anniversary of the Rev. Rex Wright at Oakey Grove Baptist Church.
Seven years is relatively short tenure for preachers, but Wright has survived a few challenges that make him a seasoned veteran.
Here's wishing him many more years in the pulpit.
Barry L. Paschal is publisher of The Columbia County News-Times. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
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