Paramedic finds relative at crash
Longmont Daily Times-Call
Vail, CO Colorado
LONGMONT (AP) ” Jesse Hodgson was uneasy as the ambulance sped to a motorcycle wreck at Weld County roads 13 and 32 on Mother’s Day.
He didn’t know why.
Hodgson, a paramedic and firefighter with the Mountain View Fire Protection District, had responded to countless calls like this one during his 13 years with the department.
He never felt uneasy.
Then his close friend Rich Howard, an emergency medical technician and firefighter with Mountain View, said something Hodgson doesn’t remember him ever saying before: “There’s a chance we could know someone there.”
When they pulled up to the accident minutes later ” the first ambulance to arrive ” Hodgson took in the chaotic scene.
A woman was lying in the road, surrounded by deputies and officers trying to make sure she was breathing and stable.
Then Hodgson saw Mike Jones, his wife’s uncle, sitting in a ditch, leaning up against a pole. Hodgson asked if he was all right. Jones said he was fine, then added: “Take care of Sharon.”
“When he said that, I had about two seconds to prepare,” Hodgson said.
Two seconds later, Hodgson was leaning over the woman in the road: Sharon Jones, his wife’s aunt, whom Hodgson had known for more than six years.
Police officers, firefighters, paramedics and other emergency personnel encounter tragedy nearly every day. Sometimes that tragedy becomes personal when they respond to a scene and find themselves face to face with family or friends.
“There are a few risks you take when you sign on for this career, and that is one of them,” Hodgson said.
Within minutes, Mike Jones was in an ambulance to Longmont United Hospital and Sharon Jones was in a helicopter to Medical Center of the Rockies in Loveland.
Howard pulled Hodgson into a field, where Hodgson walked around and caught his breath. Then the captain and battalion chief checked to make sure he was OK and told him to take his time.
“That’s when it started to hit that what happened actually happened,” Hodgson said.
About 10 years ago, he responded to a rollover accident to find out an ex-girlfriend had been thrown from the wrecked car. She had broken her neck, and although the injury was serious, she recovered, he said.
May 13 was the second time in his career Hodgson found himself facing someone he knew at an accident scene.
“It happens a lot more often than you’d like to see,” especially in small communities, he said. “You have to take care of business at the time and deal with emotions afterwards.”
Merrie Harper was working as a dispatcher for the Boulder County Sheriff’s Office when she took a call in September 2005.
A man reported an accident on the Interstate 25 frontage road at Weld County Road 20.
Harper asked what vehicles were involved, and the man said, “I don’t know, but there’s a red Tahoe that’s really messed up,” Harper said.
She looked at the time ” about 3:10 p.m. ” and knew the car belonged to her husband, Jay, who had just picked up their oldest son, Grady, from school.
“Dispatchers tend to develop instincts,” Harper said. “Sometimes you just know.”
She transferred the man’s call to Weld County dispatchers because the accident was in that jurisdiction. Then she called her husband, who didn’t answer his phone.
Then she called her dad, former Boulder County Sheriff Brad Leach, and asked him to go to the crash.
Then she continued to work, taking several more emergency calls until someone could cover her shift.
“My hands were kind of shaking, and I thought, ‘I’ve got to get this under control so I can keep doing my job,”‘ Harper said. “This is not a typical job where you can say, ‘My family was in an accident; I have to go.’ I had to be there to dispatch to other accidents.”
Her co-workers were caring and supportive, Harper said, and she was on the road to Longmont United Hospital within 30 minutes. Her husband and two sons were injured, but not critically, she said.
Although Harper now works for the Boulder County Office of Emergency Management, the incident changed how she handled calls and how she perceived people on the other end of the line.
“I realized every time I took one of those calls, it was someone’s family,” she said. “In our jobs, you realize it can happen to anyone at any time.”
Both the sheriff’s office and Longmont Police Department expect officers and deputies to notify a superior if a friend or family member is a suspect or criminal offender at a scene ” but not if their loved ones are victims. Most emergency agencies do not have policies or procedures to handle those rare situations.
“We don’t have it formalized because, quite frankly, it doesn’t happen that often,” said Cmdr. Phil West with the Boulder County Sheriff’s Office.
If officers find a family member or friend at a serious accident, which is rare, their training likely kicks in before their emotions do, Police Chief Mike Butler said.
“Human nature will tell you that you’re not necessarily certain how you’re going to respond in those circumstances until you confront them,” Butler said. “If you’re an officer long enough, it’s bound to happen. We expect our officers to make the appropriate decisions.”
Hodgson’s instincts as a paramedic took over when he discovered his wife’s uncle and aunt at the accident scene. He has replayed the day in his head countless times since then and knows that he and everyone else did everything they could.
Although Sharon Jones died May 21 from her injuries, Hodgson is glad he was there ” for both her and her family.
“I’m glad because I know what happened, and I truly know what was done for her,” he said. “I think it’s helped the family, too. I think they’re glad I was there.”
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