‘I just did what I hope people would do for me’: Civilian rescuers share details of multi-car accident

Published 1:18 pm Saturday, April 29, 2023

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NATCHEZ — A nurse, a doctor, an emergency medical technician in training, a volunteer firefighter, the owner of a wrecker service and multiple other civilians who all just happened to be in the right place at the right time might’ve saved two lives on Friday morning.

“Heroes,” Adams County Sheriff Travis Patten called them when he arrived just before 8 a.m. Friday at the scene of a horrifying three-car accident on U.S. 61 North near the Driver License Bureau and Starnes Drive to find them lifting a woman from a burning car.

One of the drivers, also a nurse, was not seriously hurt, while the other two drivers were transported to different trauma centers. Their condition is unknown at this time.

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David Kelly, a contractor of Kelly Construction, said he typically wouldn’t recommend any civilian who sees an accident to jump in and help at the risk of causing more harm than good.

However, certain situations may call for early assistance.

In the situation Friday morning, where the two drivers were trapped dangerously close to a burning vehicle on its side, it was necessary, he said.

David Kelley was driving to work Friday morning in a separate vehicle from his wife, Kelsey Kelly, who is a doctor in physical therapy.

“Up ahead, Kelsey made it through the light ahead of me,” he said. When he could see traffic was backed up and saw smoke in the air, “My first thought was Kelsey got in an accident.”

He then saw his wife pulled over in the median and running across the road to the wreck.

Kelsey Kelly said the fire made her stop.

“You have to act fast,” she said. “If the fire kept getting bigger, we could’ve lost two lives that day. By that point, the fire was already big and licking up the windows.”

Meg McDaniel, from Meadville, said she was on her way to work at Heart2Heart in Natchez on Friday morning when the sight of the accident made her stop.

“I’m in EMT school and know the basics,” she said.

McDaniel noticed that the woman in the upright car had a serious fracture and lacerations on her ankle. She then noticed the other car, which was laying on its side, was in flames.

The woman inside was hanging nearly upside down, entangled in her seatbelt, McDaniel said.

When McDaniel arrived, not as many people were around to help, but the crowd started building.

Another who stopped was Jeremy Sanders of Sanders Collision, who had a crowbar he used to try and break windows to get the woman out of the burning car and who managed to put out the fire with a fire extinguisher.

John Carl “Boudreaux” Johnson and his 15-year-old stepson Matthew Felter also saw the accident and also stopped. Johnson is a diesel mechanic and a volunteer firefighter at the Kingston fire station, his wife Sarah Johnson said.

“At first, we kept sort of kept going but then I looked and saw that the car was on fire,” Felter said. “Boudreaux said that we needed to help. He stopped and said, ‘Watch yourself’ and started running to the car. I got over there, too, to see what I could do. We were trying to get her out by busting the windows. I pulled off my hoodie so they could wrap it around their hands to remove the broken glass.”

They helped McDaniel get on top of the car that was lying on its side where she could talk to the trapped victim.

Sanders managed to climb inside the car and lift the victim up so that her weight wasn’t only being supported by the seatbelts, McDaniel said.

Kelsey Kelley had a seatbelt tool on her keyring they used to cut her seatbelts and pull her out while David Kelley managed to break the car door out of the way.

“The top door, when you opened it, would just slam back down,” David Kelley said. “I knew that to pick her up out of that position without hurting her was going to be difficult.”

While David Kelley and McDaniel were on top of the car, Felter said he helped support it from the side to keep the car from rocking.

By the time they started lifting the woman out of the car, the ambulance had arrived to put her on a stretcher. They continued to help the other driver, whom McDaniel said was talking about her neck hurting as well as her ankle.

“I started holding her (cervical) spine,” before they could get a neck brace on her, McDaniel said. She also helped the EMTs stabilize her foot.

David Kelley said he had to help hold back the door of the other car as well while they worked.

“I held that door so hard my arms were quivering,” he said. “I started to tell her that God was with her and spared her life today and everything was going to be OK. …

“I wouldn’t personally recommend anyone doing what we did unless there are already medical personnel on the scene. … We weren’t heroes. We were doing things to save a life in a difficult situation under the guidance of medical personnel there. … I’ve got a new respect for EMTs and medical workers.”

McDaniel said that when she stopped, it was instinctive.

“I just did what I would hope people would do for me,” she said. “Ever since I was little, I loved helping people and I’ve always been that person. I wouldn’t say we saved their lives, but I think that us being there and getting her out of the car gave her higher chances. The car could’ve blown up or anything could’ve happened. It’s a great day to be alive.”