(HOUSTON) — Seven people on their way to church recently avoided a potentially deadly crash, thanks to the combined efforts of a thoughtful stranger, emergency dispatchers and a roadside assistance worker.
“If not for them, maybe it’d be a different story,” Vivian Ikpefua, the owner of the car, told ABC News Tuesday.
On Sunday, Ikpefua was traveling with six others when the car they were in got a flat tire. James Richards, a roadside assistance worker, was stopped on the shoulder of the Westpark Tollway in southwest Houston to help them when he got a call from the Harris County Toll Road Authority Incident Response Command.
“Be advised, sir,” the dispatcher said. “There’s a vehicle approaching you that is swerving all over the lane….He is about to get on the shoulder. You need to steer clear of the lane.”
Minutes earlier, an alert driver had called command to report an erratic SUV on the roadway.
“I cannot imagine what would have happened if she hadn’t taken the time to give us a call,” dispatcher Alexa Barrick told local station ABC13.com.
With just seconds before impact, dispatchers radioed to warn Richards, who said he and the family were all standing between his wrecker and Ikpefua’s vehicle. Richards, who said the SUV was just a mere exit away, tried to quickly get everyone back inside the car.
“I didn’t have time to explain because I [knew] it’s coming,” he said Tuesday. “I looked over my shoulder [and] I see it coming.”
With nearly 40 cameras perched on the toll road, dispatchers prepared themselves for the worst as they watched the SUV take to the shoulder and bear down on Richards and the stranded family. The SUV smashed into the tow truck’s rear.
Richards described the impact as “bone-chilling…one of my cat lives, for sure.”
Neither he nor the family members were hurt.
“We heard a loud noise at the back of my car….My daughter was crying….I was scared,” Ikpefua said Tuesday. “If he [Richards] hadn’t been there, it’d be a different story.”
Capt. Terry Allbritton of the Harris County Precinct 5 Constable’s Office did not identify the driver of the SUV, who he said suffered leg and head injuries, and was given a ticket for driving on the shoulder. He may have been distracted and not realized he was on the shoulder, Allbritton said.
Allbritton added that if it wasn’t for Richards, the accident could have been much worse.
“Fortunately, his quick thinking and his training was able to save these peoples’ lives and his own,” Allbritton said.
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