Crash Survivor Meets Love County Rescuers
Posted on Monday, September 13th, 2004
Flowers and Smiles: Sarah Allison Flores meets critical care paramedic Mike Langford, who treated Flores for 45 minutes while rescuers freed the Keller, TX woman from an I-35 wreck.
Crash Site: Sarah Allison Flores was pinned in the driver-side floorboard of the SUV (left) after her vehicle was struck from behind by this semi-trailer truck at mile marker 11 of I-35. (OHP photo)
A 29-year-old woman who survived a multi-vehicle collision on Interstate 35 in June paid a visit to Mercy Health/Love County Hospital and Clinic Friday to meet and thank her rescuers.
"I'm here because of every one of you," Sarah Allison Flores of Keller, TX tearfully told the approximately 25 Love County volunteer firefighters, traffic control officers, and paramedics who turned out to greet her in the hospital cafeteria.
About 25 more local responders aided in traffic control, Flores and her family were told.
Flores was one of two persons pinned in separate SUVs in the crash, which occurred in a construction zone at mile marker 11. A semi-trailer truck also was involved.
Single-lane traffic on both sides of a miles-long construction barricade complicated access to the scene. Troopers closed the Interstate southbound at Exit 15 and northbound at Exit 5 to make way for rescue vehicles and enable air ambulance helicopters to land.
The crash occurred in mid-afternoon. Normal traffic did not resume until evening, Trooper Heath Green said.
When the first Love County ambulance to be dispatched encounted a traffic delay, paramedics Mike Langford and Bob Hargis enlisted the aid of a driver on I-35 who helped them transfer equipment to the bed of his pickup and sped them to the wreckage along the highway shoulder.
At the scene, they split up, with Langford treating Flores and Hargis a male in the other SUV. Soon, they were joined by paramedic David Manning and medic Jesse Snelson.
Eventually, "jaws of life" equipment was required to remove both injured persons. Two other injured persons were taken to the local emergency room by ground ambulance. No one died in the crash.
Jason Tipton, one of the first on the scene, told how he and fellow volunteer firefighters Mike Sampson and Chuck McGill found Flores, her body wedged beneath the steering column of her SUV, conscious but contorted, the front grill of the semi-trailer inches behind the front seat.
"I was surprised to see you alive, but when we knew you were alive, we were determined that you were going to stay alive," Tipton told Flores. Sampson described how the three of them tried desperately to lift the dash board and steering column with a pry bar until the more sophisticated equipment arrived.
It took 45 minutes to free Flores, Langford said. Langford said the Life Star helicopter from Sherman-Denison was landing at the moment she was extricated, and she was quickly flown to Harris Methodist Hospital in Dallas.
A similar rescue was unfolding in the second SUV, and a Care Flight helicopter from Denton transported that patient.
It takes 19 persons to do a jaws of life extraction, said Jesse Kirk, a retired captain with the Irving Fire Department, who set up the incident command post, so at least 38 people were involved in freeing the injured, and dozens of Love County volunteers aided in traffic control, he said.
"When you don't have to worry about traffic moving around you, it really helps. The highway patrol and city/county officers who secured the scene did a great job," Langford said.
He said paramedics kept an eye on rescuers for evidence of heat exhaustion on the summer Sunday. Trooper Marty Grisham left the air conditioner of his patrol car running so rescuers could take occasional breaks, and volunteers brought water and energy drinks to the scene.
Langford described Flores as conscious and able to communicate during the ordeal. "I started an IV and oxygen and just tried to explain to her what was happening while they were taking the car apart to get her out," Langford said.
Flores has no recall of the accident and listened closely as rescuers described the aftermath. She was accompanied by her parents, Jan and Gary Allison of Edmond, her paternal aunt, Joyce Powell, and her husband, Javier Flores, retired professional baseball player with the Texas Rangers.
Jan Allison said her daughter and son-in-law had moved the prior week to Keller from Oklahoma City and Sarah Flores was driving alone back to Edmond to surprise her father on Father's Day.
When Flores failed to arrive, the parents contacted the Oklahoma Highway Patrol for information. Because Flores' purse had not yet reached Harris Methodist, her parents and husband could not positively identify her for hospital officials until 10 p.m. that night.
Jan Allison said her daughter underwent two brain surgeries in five days and also received treatment for multiple fractures of the back, ribs, and nose. Allison said the family feared for her life until the end of the first of her three weeks in intensive care.
Months in inpatient rehabilitation followed. Flores said she is now receiving outpatient care five days a week but expects to conclude therapy and resume work in November. She holds two degrees from the University of Oklahoma and has been employed the past eight years as a development trainer for a pharmaceutical company.
She married Javier Flores three years ago. The former major league catcher was a player on the OU baseball team that won the 1994 NCAA championship.
Dressed in light brown slacks and a striped shirt, Sarah Flores stood for long periods at the two-hour gathering of rescuers. The only visible evidence of her injuries was a hard plastic shield she wore beneath the shirt to protect her still-fragile back and ribcage. Though emotional at times, she mainly chatted and smiled with those attending the reception, for which the hospital provided cookies, fruit, and soft drinks.
Langford said he had contacted the Dallas hospital daily for word on her condition until he knew Flores was out of the woods. He said her request to meet with rescuers was a rare and welcome treat.
Flores hugged everyone present, while her parents took pictures and recorded names. The rescuers identified themselves and told the roles they played that afternoon.
"We're glad you're OK," said Sarah Brannan, who along with her father, Rick Brannan, were the first from the Love County search and rescue squad to arrive at Flores' side. "You've got lots of friends in Love County," Sampson said. "You're a tough and strong person," Tipton said.
"I've been in a lot of rehab, but this is the best rehab I have had," Flores said.