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explained. “We always take Five Points Road back to Vidalia, but we had happened to stop in Metter and decided to go that way. God just placed us and many others at the right place at the right time.”
Johnson and Jay first noticed the incident when they approached a curve near the accident, where a truck appeared to be backing up in their lane. “We saw the truck stop and back up in the road and were thinking, ‘That’s pretty dangerous,’ but then we saw the accident and realized the people in the truck were backing up to help the victims.”
The women stopped their car and ran to the scene. They recognized the children in the accident from previous photography sessions, and quickly began comforting two of the kids near them, who appeared to have some injuries. “We did not have any supplies or anything,” Jay reminisced. “We were just trying to use paper towels and give them water or anything we had.”
Johnson and Jay hailed two men on scene as heroes, stating that the good Samaritans rushed to the aid of those stuck in the car without any hesitation. “They pulled the mother out of the burning car, and we were all asking if there was anyone else in the car. The woman then started yelling that her baby was in the car and the men ran to car, which was already partially on fire, and rescued the baby,” the women recounted.
According to the women, one of the men who rescued the baby suffered from smoke inhalation because of the amount of smoke he breathed while working to free the child. “He was coughing, and I walked over and thanked him for what he did for the family,” Jay said. “He told me that he would hope someone would do the same thing for him and his family.” Along with Jay and Johnson, several citizens have been named for their work in the rescue, including Samantha Castro, Christopher Johnson, Stacy Callaway, Stacey Turbyfill, and Holly Brook Brinson. Three of the accident victims — the mother, a 9-year-old child, and a 6-year-old child — were airlifted to the Memorial Health University Medical Center in Savannah. A 5-year-old child and a 1-year-old child were taken to Memorial Health Meadows Hospital by Toombs-Montgomery EMS for immediate care. The car was a total loss, but the event did leave the witnesses of the wreck with a life lesson learned. “I think it is so important that we get reminders of emergency preparedness for these kind of situations,” Johnson emphasized. She said that since the accident, she and Jay had equipped their vehicles with safety items, such as hammers to break windows, tools to cut seatbelts, and vehicle fire extinguishers, to make sure they have the necessary tools for any future emergencies. Overall, the women said the experience also reminded them of the wonderful people around them. “We really do have great people in our community,” Johnson remarked. “So many people came to help that family out — they would park by the road and run down the highway to the scene. It was an amazing thing to witness. You hear of these things on television, but to see it unscripted and in real life – it was something I won’t forget.” Toombs County Fire Chief Johnny Moser, said fire and rescue crews from Toombs County Fire Department’s Station 4, which is a mile from the wreck site, were on the accident scene in three minutes after receiving a call at 5:30 p.m.
Chief Moser said when he arrived in an engine, the wrecked SUV was fully engulfed by fire and he heard a loud explosion, which he believes was one of the vehicle’s tires. The chief said as first responders worked to extinguish the fire and attend to victims, civilians jumped in to assist. The bodies of several of the victims who had been pulled from the wreckage were being shielded from the fire by the civilians. “The victims were approximately 10 yards from the vehicle fire and the vehicle was experiencing tire explosions and severe heat was radiating on the civilians and victims,” the Chief said.
Chief Moser said, “The immediate actions of these civilians resulted in the occupants of the vehicle not perishing in the fire.” Moser said while the civilians weren’t looking for recognition, he does plan on honoring them in the future at a public meeting.
The Chief said that a TCFD fire investigator determined that the vehicle caught fire rapidly because of severed fuel and transmission lines under the vehicle. “This was caused by the vehicle undercarriage being severely damaged as it hit a culvert, which also caused the vehicle to experience a one rotation flip end over end, landing on its tires,” The Chief thanked Sheriff’s Office personnel Deputy Chase Barr, Lt. Wendell Beasley, and Sgt. Robert Wiggs, who stepped into roles to assist in fire suppression, patient care and landing zone preparation. “The entire event was a testimony to the interagency cooperation of Toombs County’s finest along with civilian involvement demonstrating what makes America the greatest country on earth,” Moser said. Agencies responding to the accident include the Toombs County Fire Department, Toombs EMS, and the Toombs County Sheriff’s Office.