truck wreck

Piedmont Correctional Staff Pull Driver from Overturned Tractor-Trailer

Author: Brad Deen

SALISBURY — Adult Correction staff are used to reacting quickly and calmly in an emergency. Four employees of Piedmont Correctional Institution did just that while driving back from a meeting, possibly saving the life of a truck driver on Interstate 85.

The group left Piedmont early Tuesday for Winston-Salem, where regional facility staff provided feedback on the department’s Strategic Plan. After lunch, they started back for Salisbury.

“We were still talking about the plan,” recalled Jennifer Jones, Piedmont’s correctional programs supervisor.  

Around 1:30, they passed Lexington but hadn’t quite reached the I-85 landmark Bill’s Truck Stop. Facility charge nurse Susan Glover, from the front passenger seat, announced that a tractor-trailer was overturning ahead.

“She was very calm,” Jones recalled. “She said, ‘Look, that truck just flipped over.’”

“I saw it going back and forth” between lanes, nurse Glover said, “and then it just went over. There was a hill, so we couldn’t see it for a while, then we came up on it.”

The rig lay on its left side, smoking. Correctional Sgt. Brian Lackey, who was driving, pulled over in front of the cab and saw the driver was still inside.

Lackey and Correctional Officer Bill Gilley rushed toward him. “There was zero hesitation on their part,” Jones said. “They ran right to it.”

They smelled diesel leaking from the engine. “I was thinking, we had to save this guy. We had to get him out,” Officer Gilley said.

Gilley hoisted Lackey onto the passenger side of the cab, where he tried to open the door. Meanwhile, Jones had retrieved a fire extinguisher from the state car, which Gilley sprayed onto the smoking, leaking engine.

“I was worried it would explode,” he said.

The extinguisher empty, Gilley tried to shatter the windshield with it, signaling the driver to shield his face.

By then, Sgt. Lackey managed to rock the passenger door open. He extended a hand to assist the driver, who hesitated.

“The guy was disoriented,” programs supervisor Jones said. “He kept wanting to go down and get his cellphone. He kept saying he needed to call his son. We were all yelling for him to get out of there. There’s gas and fluids pouring out, and there’s smoke.”

Nurse Glover observed that the driver “had a bruise on his forehead, so he probably did hit his head.” There were no lacerations or other obvious physical injuries.

Sgt. Lackey lifted the driver enough for another stopped traveler to grab his shirt and pull him free. They sat him on the edge of the cab and let him slide downward, where Officer Gilley and others on the ground caught him.

Tami Stout of Charlotte, who also stopped to assist, said the dazed driver “kept trying to walk out into traffic. I had to hook the guy in my arm, like he was escorting me.”

He continued to insist on calling his son, so Sgt. Lackey provided his personal cellphone.

“By that time, EMS and Fire were on scene,” Jones said. “A doctor also stopped and was looking him over.”

According to the State Highway Patrol report of the crash, driver Bajron Likaj, 59, of Jacksonville, Fla., was transported to Baptist Hospital in Winston-Salem.

The investigating trooper attributes the wreck to another car switching lanes too closely in front of the truck, causing it to swerve from the middle into the right lane, then off the road. It hit a guardrail, flipped onto the driver’s side and planed 461 feet along the shoulder before coming to rest beside an embankment.

“It was hair-raising, to say the least,” said Ms. Stout, who was in the middle lane behind the tractor-trailer when the wreck occurred. She didn’t see the other vehicle well enough to provide a description.

What she saw of the Piedmont staff in action impressed her.

“They were right there in the thick of it, not concerned about their personal safety,” she said of Sgt. Lackey and Officer Gilley. “They just jumped in and did what fantastic, amazing people do. It makes me proud to see people willing to put themselves in harm’s way for the sake of someone else.”

“That’s just their nature,” programs supervisor Jones said. “They always respond right away whenever there’s an emergency” at Piedmont Correctional.

Piedmont Warden Ben Anderson praised his staff’s quick thinking and their selfless consideration in protecting the public. Anderson praised Lackey’s “act of heroism” and said he'll seek greater accolades for the group's emergency response.

The officers were modest about their actions. “It was the right thing to do,” Gilley said.

“It was a great teamwork moment,” Lackey said. “We all played our part in making sure the driver was safe until EMS and Fire showed up.”

Nurse Glover has already shown her “awesome” colleagues how highly she thinks of them. “I was so proud of them afterward, I clapped for them when we got back to the car.”

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