Fatalities, falls, and fires

Jail inmate found dead; one killed in Highway 91 wreck; woman injured in 60-foot fall; Bishop Hollow fire still burning

By Kathy Helms-Hughes

   From start to finish, Sunday was not a good day for Carter County emergency responders.
   A Carter County Jail inmate was found dead early Sunday morning in her cell. Information was being withheld pending notification of relatives. Further information was unavailable, however, Carter County Sheriff's Department is expected to issue a press release later today.
   Around 5:50 p.m. Sunday, members of Stoney Creek Volunteer Fire Department, Carter County Sheriff's Department, Tennessee Highway Patrol and Carter County Rescue Squad responded to a two-motorcycle accident on State Highway 91 near the 18 mile marker, about half way to the top of Cross Mountain.
   One person was pronounced dead at the scene and another person was flown to Johnson City Medical Center in very critical condition, according to Lt. Mike Fraley of the sheriff's department.
   Members of THP's Critical Incident Response Team were still on the scene late Sunday, reconstructing the accident. Trooper Joe Lunceford said names were being withheld pending notification of families.
   "We had two motorcycles traveling south on U.S. Highway 91. It is unknown at this time exactly what happened," he said. The drivers of the two sport bikes, believed to be a Honda and a Kawasaki, were traveling with a group when the accident occurred. The drivers both were wearing helmets, Lunceford said.
   "We don't know what happened yet; that's why we called in the CIRT team, which specializes in reconstruction."
   Members of Stoney Creek Volunteer Fire Department were called to their station for debriefing after working the accident. "Some of them were not dealing with it real well, from what I understand," Trooper Lunceford said.
   While emergency workers were responding to the Highway 91 accident, around 6:15 p.m. another call came in regarding a woman who had received head injuries after a fall while hiking near the Elk Mills/Poga community.
   Approximately 16 members of the rescue squad, including the High-Angle Rescue Team, nearly the entire Elk Mills Fire Department, members of the sheriff's department, U.S. Forest Service, Hampton, Stoney Creek and Roan Mountain Volunteer Fire Department members responded.
   "The woman took a fall of about 60 feet. Her injuries are unknown at this hour," John Burleson of the HART team said around 3:30 a.m. today. "I do know that she had several lacerations and was complaining of hip and leg pain. We were there from about 6:15 p.m. until about 1 a.m. She was in a very remote area."
   Burleson said the woman, who is from the Boone, N.C., area, and two fellow hikers had been to Oak River Falls hiking and swimming. "She was taking it easy [on the way out] because she didn't want to get hurt, and fell. Some other people there went to get help.
   "We had to set up a haul system to get her up out of there. We used about 600 feet of rope," he said. The woman was placed in a basket stretcher and carried out. She received lacerations to the side and top of her head and was complaining of leg pain, Burleson said.
   "That's the hardest rescue I've ever been on in my 18 years," he said. "The terrain was just unreal. When I dropped off from the roadway, I took one look and got on the radio and said, 'Boys, we're going on about a 60-degree bank and you'd better start calling in backup because we're going to need everything you've got.'
   "When you start carrying somebody out in a basket, it taxes your whole team," he said.
   "The vertical part of it, from the riverbottom to the roadway, was about 750 feet. We literally used almost every piece of equipment we had on the trailer, including about 600 feet of rope.
   "A normal person walking, can walk four miles per hour. But when you're dealing with somebody loaded in a Stokes basket, it's going to take you probably two hours per mile. Of course, she was back in the middle of nowhere," he said.
   Rescue Squad member Joni Lewis lost her footing while going down the steep bank and fell. "She has a fractured leg and is going into surgery this morning," Burleson said. "That is the first person in eight years we've had hurt on a HART mission."
   Lewis was transported to the medical center by Deputy EMS Director David Nichols. The fall victim was transported to the medical center by Wings Air Rescue.
   While emergency responders from the fire departments were assisting with the Highway 91 accident and Oak River Falls calls, a brush fire in the Bishop Hollow area, which has been burning since Friday afternoon, broke through fire lines and firemen were called to battle the blaze.
   Capt. Roger Lambert of Stoney Creek Volunteer Fire Department said members of the U.S. Forest Service had been on the scene all weekend and had erected fire lines to contain the blaze.
   "Some neighbors got worried tonight about it coming back down the ridge. We went up there and extinguished some of it and made them feel a little bit easier about the night," he said.
   While Lambert was relating information about the incident, Stoney Creek's pagers went off again.
   "I hate to cut you short, but I've got to go on a car fire," he said.