OAKHURST – Every day our first responders provide aid and comfort to people who may be going through the worst experience of their lives.
But after pulling someone from a burning building or cutting them out of a horrific wreck, as in this case, they rarely get to learn what became of those whose lives they helped to save.
Today, Jessica Woodington changed that for the heroes who came to her rescue on July 24 when she was involved in a crash on Road 222. She stopped in at Station 12 in Oakhurst to say “thank you!”
On the day of the accident, Jessica was on her way to work at Ducey’s at Bass Lake, and as she often did, was giving her co-worker and neighbor, Ryan Williams, a lift to work. It was about 2:45 p.m. and they were chatting about the job as they drove up Road 222 past the Old Corral Grocery Store.
As they passed Pettitt Drive, an oncoming car crossed into their lane. Both Jessica and Ryan saw the car coming at them, and she remembers thinking in those few split seconds that for sure the driver would swerve back into her own lane, but the two cars collided head-on.
The force of the impact killed the other driver and pinned Jessica between her seat and the firewall of the Hyundai SUV. She could taste blood and felt it running down into her eyes, but says she didn’t lose consciousness.
Ryan got the wind knocked out of him and he was jolted out of his shoes, but was able to get out the passenger side and raced around to try and help Jessica. However, the car was so crushed on the driver’s side that there was no way to free her.
One passerby named Jim who had stopped to help even pulled a saw from his truck and tried to cut the metal away, but she says the saw broke after only a few seconds.
As anyone who drives Road 222 knows, there is no cell signal in that spot, so someone raced down the hill to find a signal and call 911. A friend of Jessica’s who came upon the wreck also headed for a better spot to call the family.
Cal Fire Engine 4254 from the Bass Lake Station was first at scene after CHP, followed by Engine 12 out of Oakhurst, which carries the Jaws of Life.
Fire Apparatus Engineers (FAE) Brent Sanders and Brandon Siegers got to work cutting her out, after determining that neither driver-side door would open, and that Jessica was “pancaked in.”
While firefighters worked to cut away both doors and the center post, Sierra Ambulance paramedic Dave Mulkey and EMT Kyle Miller talked to Jessica to reassure her. Dave sat in the passenger seat next to her while the very loud and unnerving work went on, including the removing of the back of the driver’s seat. FAE Sanders estimates it took about 15 minutes to cut enough of the car away to allow them to get a backboard into the car.
“When they started cutting the back of my chair, I was really scared because it was so close to my spine,” Jessica told first responders today at Station 12. “I could wiggle my toes and I was so glad to know that my spine was okay.”
Dave put his arm between her back and the seat back as the work progressed, which reassured her.
Sierra Ambulance General Manager Ed Guzman, also a paramedic, supervised the medical operations including tending to the other driver. Unfortunately, the woman had suffered significant injuries and died at the scene.
Guzman then took over coordinating with Cal Fire to land SkyLife air ambulance on Road 222.
With the back of the driver’s seat cut away, Jessica was slid onto the backboard, placed on a gurney and transported down to the waiting helicopter. She was flown to Community Regional Medical Center where where she was treated for two broken feet, a bruised lung, some facial damage and multiple cuts and bruises.
Jessica says the reason she decided to come to Station 12 and thank everyone is because she encountered a paramedic at a local business recently and was told that the first responders rarely if ever get to find out what happens after an incident.
“They never get to find out if that person lived, or if they’re paralyzed,” said Jessica.
“It is hard to get feedback because we’re removed,” said Guzman. “She went to the trauma center which is 50 miles away and with the patient privacy restrictions that are in place, for good reason, it’s hard for even professionals to get good feedback on how our patients do, so this is really a blessing. In a small town, we care for people we know all the time, but to actually be able to hear about their recovery, especially when it’s a happy ending, is a really good feeling.”
FAE Brandon Siegers said he was thrilled to have the opportunity to meet Jessica under better circumstances.
“I’m a local and have lived here over 30 years,” said Siegers. “I see so many faces and know a lot of people in the area, and this is truly a blessing.”
Jessica has been through one surgery and after physical therapy will know if she will require any additional procedures. If her body accepts the plate and screws in her foot and don’t inhibit her range of motion, she may not have to go through another surgery.
Jessica will be unable to work until January, and is facing a lot of expenses.
“Hopefully our medical insurance will cover a lot of things, but I obviously don’t have a car anymore so will have to purchase one once I’m able to drive again.”
She has also had a lot of anxiety since the accident, especially when riding in a car.
“My fiancé has to deal with all my backseat driving when we go anywhere,” she jokes.
Jessica says she is going through counseling to deal with her anxiety, which is something she will have to pay for out-of-pocket, plus all the time off work is a financial challenge. Family members have set up a GoFundMe account to help with some of those expenses.
The Oakhurst Chapter of Helping One Woman (HOW) is hosting a special dinner on Wednesday, Sept. 19, at El Cid Mexican Cuisine, 41939 Highway 41 in Oakhurst.
Jessica says she often thinks about the other driver involved, Haroleen Sue Bowlan of Oakhurst, who was 69 years old when she died.
“It’s a terrible tragedy. I know some of her family members and I know they’re missing her terribly. You just never know how quickly things can change.”