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Victim, emergency officials celebrate

July 30, 2008
It's been almost a year since the accident, and a lot can happen in a year. But for Laura Begle it was an important year — one of recovery, and one of trying to put her life back on track.

John Gott prepares to give Laura Begle a ride in an Air Evac helicopter on July 13 at the English Fire Station. Begle has no memory of her first ride, when Gott took her to a hospital after an accident. (Photo Courtesy of the English Volunteer Fire Department)
Begle, 22, of Ferdinand, was on her way home from Bloomington on Aug. 1 last year, driving her little blue Dodge Neon when things went terribly wrong. She was just one-half mile south of S.R. 164 on S.R. 145, between Eckerty and Wickliffe, when her car and a Mercury Sable collided head-on. The force of the collision crushed the front of her car and shoved it back into the passenger compartment, critically injuring Begle and pinning her in the car.

Crawford County Deputy Sheriff Andy Beals was the first officer at the scene and radioed that a young lady was badly injured and trapped in her vehicle — and for emergency responders to hurry. But the English Volunteer Fire Department vehicles from both English and Patoka Stations were already on their way. The first one arrived on the scene just three minutes later. Begle was unconscious, but was breathing and had a pulse.

"Things didn't look good at all," said Assistant Fire Chief Mike Benham. "She had injuries to her head and lower extremities. The car was so crushed, it looked like it was only about six feet long."

Benham and the other emergency workers had to cut the windshield out, then the top of the car off. As they continued to use spreaders to pry the car apart, one firefighter was able to reach Begle with a "bag valve mask," a hand-held device used to provide ventilation to a person not breathing or breathing inadequately.

After working for almost 25 minutes, they succeeded in extracting Begle from the car, placed her on a stretcher and turned her over to the Crawford County Ambulance EMTs and Orange County paramedics. After they assessed her injuries, Begle was loaded onto an Air Evac helicopter nearby and was taken to University of Louisville Hospital. She was immediately taken into surgery and was listed in critical condition.

"I looked in the car later," said Crawford County Health Department Nurse Kelly Sturgeon, who is also a volunteer firefighter. "The area where Laura was in the car was no bigger than a basketball. It's amazing that she survived."

But Begle surprised a lot of people. She was in intensive care for a long while and had pins in both legs. She had some memory loss due to the head injuries, but was strong and slowly began to make progress. After finally leaving the hospital, she was taken to Frazier Rehab Institute and worked with physical therapists. Then, in December, she surprised everyone at the English Fire Station when she walked through the door, wanting to thank those who saved her life.

"I don't think there was a dry eye in the place," Benham said. "It was really an emotional experience. I could barely talk. We've been doing extrications since 1979, and we've done some major ones, but this one was particularly hard."

The fire department, along with Begle's family, began organizing a day for everyone who helped to get together. John Gott, who was in the helicopter that took her to the hospital that day, promised her a helicopter ride, because she had no memory of the ride to the hospital. On July 13, she was the guest of honor at the firehouse.

"She was able to talk to John Gott for the first time," Sturgeon said. "And she met most of the firefighters and EMTs who helped her. Then, she went for a ride in the helicopter."

"I was a little afraid at first," Begle said, "but once we were in the air, I loved it. I don't remember anything about the ride when I was injured. But we flew over the place where I was in the accident. It was fun."

Begle said she's "doing pretty good" now. She took a summer class at Jasper recently and she's able to drive again. She also plans to return to Indiana University on Aug. 2 to begin work on a MBA degree.

"My memory still isn't quite up to par yet, " she said, "but nothing is holding me back."

She plans to someday be a speech therapist.

"She can dress herself now, and she jogs," Sturgeon said. "She's come a long way. And the healing works two ways — for both her and us. We were lucky that day — and she was lucky. The right people were there, and they did the right things."

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