Car plows into Pine Ridge nursing home

Staff has evacuations 'down pat' after back-to-back freak accidents

By Kathy Helms-Hughes

   Some days, through no fault of your own, nothing seems to go right. For Pine Ridge Care Center it's been one of those weeks, with back-to-back freak accidents.
   Thursday afternoon, as therapists were working on a patient in the 100 Wing, an elderly driver, who apparently thought she had her foot on the brake, accidentally tromped the accelerator and crashed into the side of the nursing home.
   "I was sitting in my office around 2:30 or so and I heard a loud noise that I thought was an explosion," said Jennie Hornsby, administrator. "We jumped up out of our office and went running up to the end of 100 hall -- there was confusion and people were real upset up there.
   "When I got to the end of the hall I could see out the end door and a car had plowed into the side of my building right into a patient room. Fortunately, there were two staff members in the room with the patient when it happened."
   The vehicle reportedly entered Room 116, occupied by patient Ola Bowers.
   Nursing home staff immediately called 911 and Elizabethton Fire Department, Hornsby said.
   "We got those people out of danger and went ahead and moved those patients out of the immediate area just as a precaution. I'm not even sure that I had to do that, but when you've got a car sticking out the side of your building, you don't question it. You just get them out of the way. You have to make that decision in such a split second that you don't have time to really analyze it too much."
   Hornsby said the patient and two employees were transported to the hospital for evaluation. "I really don't know for sure the extent of their injuries, but I don't think any of them were life-threatening. I think there might be a broken bone here or there, but I don't know that for a fact," she said Thursday afternoon.
   Monday night, a fire in a commercial dryer sent five workers to the hospital for treatment of smoke inhalation. Fire Chief Mike Shouse of Elizabethton Fire Department praised the care center staff for their quick, accurate response Wednesday night and Hornsby said Thursday, "My staff was just as effective today -- even after what all they've been through already.
   "I just thank God that no one was any more injured than what's happened, and I thank God for my staff because they are just absolutely fabulous -- they really are. They know what has to be done and they just get it done. We had the patients moved out of immediate danger even before the fire department got here."
   After two days in a row of evacuations, "We've got this down pat," Hornsby said.
   Dr. Steven May, resident physician, responded to the care center Thursday along with Elizabethton Fire Department, Carter County Rescue Squad, Elizabethton Police Department and Carter County Sheriff's Department.
   "Dr. May has been a God-send," Hornsby said. "I'm always glad he's here."
   The car was removed from the building without further damaging it, "but it did some pretty severe damage to the end of my building," Hornsby said.
   "The woman came backwards. I don't know what happened, if she just lost control of her car or if she got it in reverse ... But she just plowed into the side of that room backwards and it just kind of shoved that whole wall inward, into the room. They were just fortunate that it didn't just slam right into where they were sitting. But it was pretty scary," Hornsby said.
   "There's a hole in the side of my building, but fortunately it was on the end so we can just kind of close that room off and the other patients in the other rooms will be fine," she said.
   No electrical or plumbing problems were identified as a result of the accident. "We were concerned when they removed that car about those kinds of things, but everything in the building is functioning and the only damage was just to that one patient room," Hornsby said.
   Deputy Chief Jim Hartley said Elizabethton Fire Department responded with 10 firefighters, three pumpers and a ladder truck. Firefighters helped secure the building and evacuate the 100 Wing.
   "We didn't have to do anything else really except help remove the hazard. ... It pushed a lot of one wall in there. It's a pretty good project to fixing it back," Hartley said. The vehicle traveled through masonite siding, metal studs and sheetrock.
   When reminded that freak accidents such as those at Pine Ridge seem to travel in "threes," Hartley jokingly replied, "Yes, and we're worried about the third one."
   Editor's note: Star Staff Writer Bob Robinson contributed to this report.