By Scott Prater
Following a long weekend on the slopes of Leadville’s Ski Cooper, Lawrence Emnett was already an hour into this 3-hour drive home to Castle Rock Dec. 20.
He was traveling along smoothly on a dark, flat stretch of Highway 285 just north of the highway’s intersection with Highway 24 when he noticed a sudden distortion of light up ahead.
“I remember it as a little voice inside my head telling me to slow down,” Mr. Emnett, a communications security officer for Northrop Grumman here, said. “I saw a car coming at me and closing fast, when suddenly, its head lights disappeared. I hit the brakes, swerved onto the shoulder and realized an accident had just occurred in front of me.”
As Mr. Emnett later learned, a driver, traveling in the opposite direction at roughly 60 miles per hour, had slammed head-on into a cow in the middle of the two-lane highway just seconds before.
Call it good luck or divine intervention, but Mr. Emnett, a veteran Ski Patroller with emergency medical training, found himself in the right place at the right time.
His actions that night helped avert a possible tragedy and perhaps even saved the lives of countless vehicle passengers who were traveling through that stretch of highway at the time.
His first reaction was to grab his ski patrol vest, which held medical supplies, and a flashlight. Upon exiting his car he discovered a gruesome scene.
A Toyota 4-Runner sat steaming in the middle of the highway. Everything up to the engine block was gone. No front bumper, no hood, no radiator. The entire vehicle was covered with blood and hair. Meat sizzled on top of the engine block as Mr. Emnett peered through an open window at the 25-year old female driver.
“I was torn at the time,” Mr. Emnett said. “She was begging me to help her get out of the car, but at the same time I was thinking we were both in the midst of a danger zone. Cars were coming at us at 60 miles an hour in both directions, anyone of them could have easily run into us and killed us.”
Desperately he wanted to create a signal for other drivers, but he also wanted to assess her medical state before attempting to remove her from the wreck.
“The last thing I wanted to do was hurt her worse, so I made sure her neck wasn’t hurt,” he said. “We call it C-spine. You palpate using your finger tips to check if a person’s vertebrae is out of place or dislodged. Then if the person is conscious you ask them how they feel and where the pains are.”
Once he assessed that it was safe to remove the woman, Mr. Emnett, forced the crinkled door open, pushed the deployed air bag out of the way and pulled her from the car. Next, he checked her for blood and other injuries, then walked her over to a ditch at the side of the road.
From there, he flagged down a passing motorist and instructed them to make the 9-1-1 call, jumped in his car and moved it back 100 yards, turned on his flashers to warn other drivers and returned to the accident scene to reevaluate the patient for any possible injuries, blood, deformities and worsening shock.
Miraculously she escaped serious injury.
“She told me she never saw the cow, which meant she never hit her brakes,” Mr. Emnett said. “Thankfully her seatbelt and air bag did their job and she was able to walk away with contusions to her chest and wrist.”
Once emergency medical technicians arrived, Mr. Emnett relayed the patient’s status. From there, he helped Sheriff’s deputies round up and corral the group of cows that had escaped through a broken gate and wandered onto the highway.
He estimates the event spanned 90 minutes, from the time he stopped to the time the last vehicle exited the scene.
Though the Toyota Sport Utility Vehicle ended in a total loss, Mr. Emnett believes its passenger was not even hospitalized.
So all turned out well, except for the unfortunate bovine, and Mr. Emnett said he took a valuable lesson away from the experience.
“Have emergency flares handy to ignite and mark a road scene quickly,” he said. “My vest with medical supplies was handy, and I had my flashlight, but my flares were buried in my toolbox in the trunk. From now on, I’ll have at least one flare within easy access.”
Of course, the crash victim and those passing drivers who were successfully warned have Mr. Emnett to thank for his quick actions and decision making.
According to the Colorado State Patrol, animals caused 3,386 traffic incidents between 2004 and 2008, resulting in seven deaths and 191 injuries.
Mr. Emnett has volunteered as a National Ski Patroller for the past six years. During the summer months he teaches an EMT-1 level emergency care class to people who are interested in taking the first steps to becoming a ski-patroller and first responder.
He says he was fortunate that passing motorists during the Dec.20 incident were not texting or talking on their cell phones at the time because those actions could have averted their attention from the roadway and possibly caused a horrific tragedy at the scene.
The State Patrol also reported that inattentiveness to driving (a category that includes many behaviors, such as talking on cell phones or eating while driving) also contributes to fatal and injury accidents.
“I’m thankful that I can combine an interest of mine to help others in a sport that I love,”Mr. Emnett said. “I’m also thankful that my regular staff duties and responsibilities here at Schriever allow me the flexibility to accommodate both serious interests in my life.”