Ambulance-truck collision sends 4 to hospitals

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Shown is a Currituck-Fire EMS ambulance following its collision with a pickup truck on Caratoke Highway in Currituck on Saturday. The N.C. Highway Patrol said Richard Brooks, 82, pulled his pickup truck out in front of the ambulance. Brooks has been cited with making an improper lane change.

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By William F. West
Staff Writer

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

CURRITUCK — A Currituck Fire-EMS ambulance transporting a patient to a helicopter landing zone collided with a pickup truck in Currituck County over the weekend, sending three EMS workers and the pickup driver to area hospitals for treatment of minor injuries.

The collision between the new diesel-powered Freightliner ambulance and 2013 Ford F-150 pickup happened on Caratoke Highway near the Dollar General shortly before 4 p.m. on Saturday, said Trooper Matthew Greschak of the N.C. Highway Patrol.

According to Greschak, the pickup driven by Richard Brooks, 82, was merging into northbound traffic from the center turn lane near the Dollar General when it pulled in front of the ambulance, which also was headed north.

Ambulance driver James Wheeler, 27, tried but could not avoid colliding with Brooks’ pickup, Greschak said. The ambulance, which was traveling 55 mph and had its lights and siren activated, struck the rear of the pickup, he said.

Following the collision, Brooks' truck turned over sideways and rolled over before coming to rest off the right side of the highway, Greschak said.

The ambulance's steering mechanism quit working after the collision, causing it to slide to the right before it also came to rest off the highway, Greschak said.

Brooks, who was wearing his seat belt, was able to exit the pickup under his own power, the trooper said. Even so, Brooks was transported to Chesapeake Regional Medical Center in Virginia where he was treated and released.

Wheeler and the two other EMS workers aboard the ambulance — Joseph Zeller and George Beodeker — were transported to Sentara Albemarle Medical Center where they were treated and released, Greschak said. 

The trooper declined to identify the patient aboard the ambulance, citing federal privacy laws.

Currituck Fire-EMS Chief Chip Melton also declined to identify the patient by name but said he’s a critically ill elderly man who was being transported from a nursing facility in Barco. The ambulance was en route from a fire station in Waterlily Road to a landing zone near Moyock Middle School, where it was supposed to meet a helicopter crew who would then transport the patient to Sentara Norfolk General Hospital.

Melton said that after the collision, another ambulance was dispatched from Sligo to transport the patient to the landing zone. He did not have any information about the patient's current medical condition.

Even though the three Fire-EMS workers were not seriously injured, Melton said anytime EMS crews are involved in an accident it’s a concern. 

"It's one of the worst things you can hear: that some of your folks on mission have been involved in an accident like that and potentially are injured," he said. "We're there taking care of people — and then we end up having to take care of ourselves. It's a worst-case scenario when your own folks are injured when they're doing their job."

Brooks has been cited with making an improper lane change, Greschak said. The pickup driver is due in Currituck District Court on Feb. 2. 

Greschak declined to release Brooks' address, saying he wanted to first check with his supervisor to make sure he was authorized to release it. The N.C. Open Records Law specifies the name, age and address of a person charged with an offense is a public record.

Greschak estimated damages to the ambulance at $25,000. He estimated damages to Brooks' truck at $10,000 but considers the vehicle to be a total loss.

Although the wrecked ambulance is out of commission, Melton said his agency keeps on hand a couple of older ambulances so that service won’t be affected.